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Character Focus

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There's a reason why ensemble series are successful. The cast's big enough to allow for a multitude of storylines, the number of cast members makes for dramatic action scenes, The Power of Friendship is accounted for, and most viewers will be able to identify with at least one of the characters.

However, every now and then, it's not particularly convenient, or practical, to have 20 characters tromping around in a single plotline. Particularly if said plotline is significant to one character specifically. No one really wants The Ditz, the Deadpan Snarker, the Plucky Comic Relief and The Eeyore in tow when he's off on a journey to find himself, or to discover which villain murdered his mother, stole his inheritance and ate his pet gerbil. After all, It's Personal.

As a result, ensemble stories employ Character Focus, where one character, either alone or with only his most trusted companions (or, alternatively, the sneaky git who got curious about where he was going and stowed away in his luggage), separates from the main team and goes off on their own.

Generally, characters with mysterious pasts, five metric tons of angst or identity issues are much more likely to get Character Focus than the cheerful, well-adjusted ones, although said cheerful teammate is likely to go along to keep his angsty pal company. While this may be because True Art Is Angsty, it also gives the readers/viewers a chance to get to know characters who don't reveal much of themselves within a team context. Alternatively, a character's popularity with the fans may get him singled out from the team for a chance to shine on his own.

That's not to say that comedic stories don't use Character Focus. They're less likely, however, to use the Journey to Find Oneself to do so. In more lighthearted fare, Character Focus tends to be through flashbacks, or by distancing them from the main ensemble via plot device, such as visiting parents, meeting an old flame who brings back memories, going through their childhood possessions, etc. In such cases, the rest of the cast aren't usually absent, but just on the sidelines for the episode/arc.

Be careful, though. While fans of a particular character may enjoy a tale centered solely on that character, when the camera's zoomed in on one person, everyone else is Out of Focus... It gets worse, too: pull the camera in too tight and you've just created the Spotlight-Stealing Squad. Similarly bad, if The Scrappy gets Character Focus (but not a Retool), then he/she is in danger of becoming a Creator's Pet.

See also A Day in the Limelight and Lower-Deck Episode, where it's a side character who takes center stage, and Locked in a Room or Locked in a Freezer, where it's a relationship. If every member of the team regularly gets a chance to shine, then the writers are employing Rotating Arcs. Compare Changing of the Guard, where the shift of attention is more permanent. Contrast Non-Protagonist Resolver, when the work is screwing with Character Focus (i.e something who's not in focus ends up resolving the conflict).

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Most of the Sailor Senshi from Sailor Moon got storylines (mainly) to themselves during the filler arcs of the anime, as the need for padding provided opportunities to flesh out the rather large cast in-between the story episodes.
    • In the manga, the Dead Moon Circus arc featured each of the Guardian Senshi having to confront their inner demons in order to gain their Crystal Power upgrade.
    • While the main Sailor Moon manga ran in Nakayoshi, its sister magazine, Run-Run, published some one-offs and side stories that inevitably fleshed out the characters. Chibiusa's Picture Diaries focused on some of her stories in the future. The Exam Battles side stories also gave character focuses to individual team members. One of those stories, "Ami-chan no Hatsukoi" (Ami's First Love) was also adapted as a short special to accompany the ''SuperS movie due to Ami's extreme popularity in Japan. Finally, "Casablanca Memories" was a story entirely focused on Rei that filled in most of the backstory for Rei in the manga's canon.
    • One of the SuperS specials focused entirely on Haruka and Michiru to try and come up with an excuse for why they would not appear in the rest of the season.
    • The entire SuperS season took a lot of criticism for giving Chibiusa a much larger role, to the point where she split main character status with Sailor Moon (including requiring Chibiusa to help her transform and to finish off the season's monsters). The manga version of that story arc did give Chibiusa a larger role, but not at the expense of other main characters also having their own storylines (such as the Outer Senshi, who got written out of that season of the anime but played a major role in the manga).
  • Naruto:
    • Naruto followed up its long Chunin Exam/Destruction of Konoha Tournament Arc (which introduced or expanded the roles of literally dozens of characters) with the Search For Tsunade arc, in which Naruto, Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shizume, Orochimaru, and Kabuto were the only characters with significant roles.
    • Additionally, in Shippuden, Shikamaru gets his own arc involving two Akatsuki. Jiraya and Sasuke also get significant attention, combining with the former so much so that Naruto himself was Out of Focus for quite some time.
  • The treatment of Conrad in Kyo Kara Maoh! is a strong example of Character Focus, arguably at the expense of the other members of the cast. This anime is quintessentially an ensemble piece, making it difficult to squeeze in Character Focus without becoming Filler. Yet we still learn all about Conrad's past, his angst and his karmic connection to Yuri. Even Conrad's father gets A Day in the Limelight - and he died long before the story started. Compare this to Conrad's half-brothers Gwendal and Wolfram, who don't get much Character Development after the initial episodes. We don't even know who their dads are.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, it happens by the very last two arcs of the series, before that the assembly focus was entirely on the main characters: Tanjiro, Nezuko, Zenitsu and Inosuke, with one or more side-characters accompanying them; when the Infinity Castle and Sunrise Cool Down arcs happen, however, the cast constantly shifts focus since by then a gauntlet of fights happen simultaneously, with many characters getting their time to shine separately, unveiling their last depths and character closures, to the point even Tanjiro, the protagonist himself, is entirely absent for several of these character focused last bouts before he rejoins the limelight.
  • Much of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga vs anime fights (when they aren't about the main plot) come down to the differing Character Focus the two versions have.
  • All the Straw Hats of One Piece have one arc with particular focus on them. Zoro: The Morgan arc. Nami: The Arlong arc. Usopp: The Kuro arc. Sanji: The Baratie arc. Chopper: The Drum arc. Robin: The Enies Lobby arc. Franky: The Water 7 arc. Brook: The Thriller Bark arc.
    • Ace also changes from being a minor character to becoming important off-screen in the Impel Down (he isn't seen much but the plot is about saving him) to practically becoming the main character together with Luffy in the Marineford arc (along with Whitebeard) and the first half of the Post-War arc.
    • Similarly, after the Time Skip, Trafalgar Law—who wasn't even introduced to the story until almost 500 chapters in—goes from simply being one of Luffy's rivals (a fellow member of the "Eleven Supernovas" alongside Luffy and Zoro) to becoming a massively important character who forms a formal alliance with Luffy and whose plans and actions are the catalyst for the Dressrosa arc (currently the longest arc in the series by far). Like Ace before him, Law is pretty much the co-main character of said arc alongside Luffy (at the very least, the Deuteragonist), in which he gets a very sympathetic backstory in a flashback, is revealed to have a highly sought-after Devil Fruit power, receives more screentime than most of the Straw Hats, and practically becomes an honorary Straw Hat himself.
  • Eyeshield 21 has this for most of the Devilbats. The Zokugaku game for Monta, the Taiyou game for the Ha-Ha Brothers, the Death March and Bando game for Taki, the Kyoshin game for Komosubi, the Seibu game for Musashi, the Naga game for Yukimitsu, and the Hakushuu game for Kurita. Interestingly, Hiruma never gets a true character focus (he never has his skills as a player "questioned" or "proven"), but he was intentionally designed to be somewhat "mysterious" and "otherworldly". Sena's character focus is pretty much the entire series.
  • Tabitha from The Familiar of Zero gets her own spinoff manga.
  • THE iDOLM@STER - Every one of the idols has a focus episode, some more than others though.
  • Each episode of Anpanman is created by taking two characters (or a defined group of characters and another character) and having them meet each other or work together, playing off their own personality traits. Thanks to the show holding the record for most named characters, this works out well. When a new character is introduced, they'll get their own starring episode.
  • Queen's Blade: Hide & Seek is an AU manga series which shifts the focus from Leina, who gets Demoted to Extra, and unto her younger sister, Elina.
    • The story chronicles her pursuit of Leina, while also delving deeper into Elina's character, her motivations, and her attempts to come to terms with her forbidden love for both her older sisters. In addition, she's shown to be far more formidable here, than in her anime portrayal.
    • Hide & Seek gives Claudette a near equal amount of focus, as she makes up the other half of the romantic subplot between her and her youngest sister, Elina. Which effectively makes her the deuteragonist of the series. For much of the story, she finds herself torn between her hidden feelings toward Elina and her resentment towards her other sister, Leina, whom she knows Elina is in love with.
  • Attack on Titan sometimes does Character Focus arcs to explain certain storylines that the main characters wouldn't have answers to. Some of these characters include Christa Lenz (aka Historia Reiss), Kenny Ackerman (Levi's uncle), Grisha Yeager and Reiner Braun.
  • Ishigami starts getting focus in the lead up to the sports festival in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, which delves into his past in middle school. After that point, he gets upgraded to being the tritagonist.
  • Moran gets his in Moriarty the Patriot during The Man with the Golden Army when William and Albert send him off to India to deal with a corrupt duke, weapons-dealing, and his Dark and Troubled Past.

    Comic Books 
  • In keeping with the "angsty characters are more interesting" sentiment common to this trope, Wolverine has wandered off on his own in every incarnation of the X-Men for various reasons - seeking answers to his past, in pursuit of the villain du jour or just because he's had a fight with one of the other X-Men.
    • Broadly speaking, however, all the X-Men got a plotline to themselves at some point; the comics especially used rotating arcs.
  • The Authority side stories Street Life and Isolation focused on Jack Hawksmoor and The Engineer, respectively, taking a break from the Apollo and Midnighter Show.
  • The G1 Transformers series often had these. Often these fleshed out characters, though every single one was to convince you to buy their toy.
    • Similarly, IDW's Transformers: Spotlight series devotes one issue to one character, though the events all tie together somehow.
  • "Detached Service Diary" was a Blackhawk feature with solo stories about the individual Blackhawks.
  • Jet Dream gave Marlene and Ting-a-Ling a couple stories each.
  • Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! had occasional backup strips with solo adventures for the members of the team.
  • Solo Avengers (later Avengers Spotlight) was a Marvel book in which Avengers who didn't have their own title got solo stories.
  • Teen Titans Spotlight did the same thing for members of the Titans.
  • JSA Classified did the same thing for the Justice Society. (Although JLA Classified, the book it was named in imitation of, did stories featuring the whole League, because they almost all had their own titles).

  • Tristan and Franka are side characters in the Nightfall (Series), but each gets a chapter from their point of view.
  • Animorphs started out with a five book rotation deciding who narrated (and was the focus of) each book. For the most part, the focus is fairly equal (though Cassie received more All Up to You plots than the others—a total of 3). However, there were six characters, so the cycle went Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, Ax, Cassie, Marco—meaning Ax and Tobias only narrated half as many books as the others. One problem with this was that Fangirl favorite Tobias' books tended to be very emotional, philosophical and dramatic. While his books had comic relief, he never narrated a primarily lighthearted, lower-stakes story. Meanwhile, most of Ax's books, despite the fact that his very first narration established that he had to kill Visser Three according to Andalite revenge customs, tended towards comedy and Filler. Near the end, Ax was added to the end of the rotation, however, and that fixed his problems.
  • Similarly, KA Applegate's Everworld series features a different one of the five main characters for every book. Um, in a cycle.
    • Actually, it rotated between the four main characters, with Senna getting her own Villain Book. Because the series was twelve stories long this resulted in Jalil only getting two books instead of three.
  • The story is all done in third person, but in Micheal Grant's "Gone", the focus switches every couple pages to a different character.
  • Nagaru Tanigawa, author of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels, stated that he likes Yuki Nagato, because she is the easiest to write Character Development for. For that matter, Mikuru gets a Character Focus chapter and an entire novel, too.
  • "Real literature" example: every chapter in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Fey series tells the story from the viewpoint of a different character.
  • The Myth Adventures series is usually narrated by one character, but any books including "M.Y.T.H." in the title (with the periods) are narrated by various other characters, sometimes one per chapter.
  • Joey and Tony of Backyard Sports get this treatment in two of the Backyard Books.
  • The Alienist: The characters in the novel split off singly and in pairs during the investigation.
  • Warrior Cats: Starting with The New Prophecy, each book shifts the focus to a different one of the main characters. In fact, in Omen of the Stars, the cat on the cover of each book is the focal character for it (except for Sign of the Moon, in which the focal character is Jayfeather, not the covercat Stoneteller).
  • The Railway Series gave separate stories and even full novels to numerous stations and individual engines. Its Animated Adaptation Thomas & Friends initially followed this formula, though later seasons focus more primarily on the show's Breakout Character.
  • Stephen King frequently utilizes this in his stories that feature large casts. Most notably seen in The Stand, It, The Dark Tower series, and Needful Things, among others.
  • Harry Turtledove is absolutely in love with this trope, and given that his books are almost always Doorstoppers with huge casts, it can get to where it makes your head spin.
  • Each one of the five N.E.R.D.S. books focuses on a different team member. Book 1 focuses on Jackson/Braceface, Book 2 on Duncan/Gluestick, Book 3 on Matilda/Wheezer, Book 4 on Julio/Flinch, and Book 5 on Ruby/Pufferfish.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lost cycles through characters: one week may focus attention on Kate, the next may be Hurley, and so forth.
  • Once Upon a Time has the same format as Lost (due to the show being created by the same producers)
  • Heroes: The first season episode "Company Man" is all about Noah Bennett.
  • Firefly: "War Stories" focuses more on the character Wash than most previous episodes, as the pilot of an unarmed ship he was usually away from the action. This led to some frustration on his part and he subsequently demanded to be brought along for a field mission.
  • Leverage sometimes has an episode focused on a single character. Generally, the Character Focus will go to the character recalling a talent of theirs to play the bait or the character dealing with an issue or acquaintance from his or her past life.
  • M*A*S*H has many episodes focused on Hawkeye, with the episode "Hawkeye" the most extreme: a 20-minute monologue by Hawkeye, with no other regular appearing in the episode.
  • Skins has nearly every episode each series (excluding finales) focusing on a different member of the group and their problems, while relating it to the ongoing storyline.
  • Sons of Anarchy used to do this, focusing on minor members of the club, the police force, and members of rival gangs. In recent episodes it has focused entirely on the relationship between Jax and Tara and how the club's actions affect Jax. The phrase 'Jax will get to the bottom of this' has become a running joke amongst fans.
  • Arrested Development did this explicitly in S4. Each episode of the season exclusively followed a specific member of the household over the same time period. the opening credits were even tailored to make it clear which character was going to be the focus of that episode.
  • Happens on Degrassi fairly often. This can sometimes give away who the next major plotline is about, since a character who usually is Out of Focus may get brought back into the spotlight for no apparent reason.
  • The go-to format for most Japanese cop shows. The major pioneer in this area was 1972's Taiyo Ni Hoero, and almost every show since followed suit.
  • Every main character of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a few episodes where they leave the station to go off on their own adventures, with the other characters appearing only briefly (if at all).

    Professional Wrestling 
  • On WWE (Monday Night RAW in particular), most of the storylines tend to revolve around the likes of John Cena,Triple H, The Rock, and other big names while most of the mid-card talent and Divas tend to be lost in the shuffle.

    Video Games 
  • Tales of Legendia has an after story section of character quest chapters, created sorely to develop characters in the party. Even Norma gets to angst thanks to this feature.
  • Final Fantasy VII Compilation. We have Dirge of Cerberus focusing on Vincent Valentine, Before Crisis focusing on the Turks, Crisis Core focusing on Zack Fair, and a two-episode anime featuring Denzel, a kid from the Advent Children movie.
  • Torneko Taloon of Dragon Quest IV is popular enough that there's a number of mystery dungeon sequel-spinoff games featuring him continue his journey for a fortune as the greatest merchant. Yangus from Dragon Quest VIII received a similar benefit.
  • Liara T'Soni of the Mass Effect series got a lot of this, starting with the "Genesis" digital comic (which allowed people who hadn't played Mass Effect 1 to play a resume of it in the second opus), it continued with the "Lair of The Shadow Broker" DLC, in which she plays a central role. This carried over into the third game, in which she is promoted to The Lancer and has more cut-scenes and is required to accompany you to more missions then any other companion. Aria T'Loak is given this treatment in the "Omega" DLC, and, while less evident, Urdnot Wrex is this to the "Citadel" DLC.
  • Final Fantasy IX: Some characters (particularly Vivi and Garnet) receive significant focus, to the detriment of other characters (most noticeably, Freya, whose personal story line is completely dropped early on in Disc 2 and not picked back up until the very end of the game).
  • Robert was the protagonist of Art of Fighting 3, which had him revisit the fictional city of Glasshill, Mexico to protect his childhood friend, Friea Lawrence, from their mutual friend, Wyler. After a confrontation with Ryonote , whom Robert defeats, he went onto to face Sinclair and finally Wyler, himself; defeating them as well.

  • Used often in Electric Wonderland, which has a larger roster of main characters (seven for now) than any of Platypus Comix's other flagship comics.
  • Done quite often in El Goonish Shive, thanks to the fact that there is no central protagonist between the eight main characters.
  • Piro and Kimiko have been getting a lot of this in Megatokyo, with various other characters appearing as supporting cast - or occasionally, just used as sounding boards.
  • Used several times in The Order of the Stick, the best example probably being Vaarsuvius' separation from the rest of the party.
  • Used a lot in Sluggy Freelance, particularly given Torg's tendency to get Trapped in Another World.

    Web Original 
  • Episodes one, two and three of Demo Reel focus on Tacoma's patience limits, Rebecca's Dark and Troubled Past and Donnie's issues respectively.
  • Don't Hug Me I'm Scared:
    • The Yellow Guy has the biggest role of the three main puppets in the third episode, as the other two are off having a picnic away from the episode's Teacher.
    • Similarly, the fourth episode focuses moreso on Red Guy and his tendencies as an Only Sane Man.
    • The Duck Guy is the central focus of the fifth episode, coming more into conflict with this episode's Teachers than normal.
  • Season 12 of Red vs. Blue is focusing a lot on Tucker's growth as a leader. There were hints of this in season 11 as well, but focusing more on him as a soldier than a leader and building up to his arc for the next season.
  • RWBY: The central focus of Volume 3 is arguably Yang, who previously had comparatively little screen-time and no real Character Development. By the end of the Volume, she's a bedridden, depressed wreck, missing an arm, disgraced in the eyes of the world and has lost her friends, her school and her career in one fell swoop.
  • A part of the Whateley Universe, since there are a dozen different writers. About half the main and side characters got their own focus stories just over Christmas vacation. Aquerna's Christmas story apparently turned her into a semi-main character.
  • Parents and Kids Share Together has Weekly Character Wednesdays, a series which focuses on a different Sprout original character (almost) every Wednesday.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender. The episode "Zuko Alone" focuses on Zuko alone, even the B-Plot was just him remembering scenes from his childhood which detailed his early relationship with his father and sister (and Mai), explained how uncle Iroh (the elder brother) did NOT end up as Fire Lord, and revealed that his mother had mysteriously disappeared one night when he was very young.
  • In the second season of Justice League Unlimited, a disproportionate number of episodes feature The Question, Huntress, Green Arrow, or Black Canary.
  • Galaxy Rangers loved this trope. Each one of the main four got one or more episodes that either backgrounded or omitted the other three.
  • The Simpsons definitely has this trope thanks to its diverse cast of 100+ characters.
  • South Park started using this more and more as the boys became more distinguished. Episodes typically focus on Stan and Kyle, Kyle and Cartman, Cartman and Butters, or Randy and Stan.
  • Certain episodes in Young Justice (2010) focuses on each member of the team. "Bereft" was Miss Martian. "Drop Zone" was Robin. "Schooled" was Superboy. "Infiltrator" and "Secret" were Artemis. "Denial" was Kid Flash. "Downtime" was Aqualad.
  • In Thunder Cats 2011 though Lion-O has received the most Character Development of the titular group, Panthro's introduction, "Old Friends," delves into his backstory, and that of his Evil Former Friend Grune. Later, we get two episodes devoted to the Thunderkittens, and one episode for Tygra.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has several. "The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill," an episode detailing how The Mighty Thor met Beta Ray Bill, went so far as to replace the intro's picture of the Avengers with a picture of Thor.
  • While My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic had a handful of focus episodes in its first season, Season 2 went further and there are very few episodes that don't focus on fewer than 3 characters.
  • Most episodes of Teen Titans (2003) spotlight one or two members of the team. On a larger scale, each seasonal arc focuses on a particular character:
    • Season 1: Robin
    • Season 2: Terra, and to a lesser extent Beast Boy
    • Season 3: Cyborg
    • Season 4: Raven, and to a lesser extent Robin
    • Season 5: Breaks the pattern by not being centered around a specific character, but Beast Boy plays a key role at the beginning and again near the end, so it's sometimes considered his season.
  • Aside from the usual Spotlight Stealers, some contestants in Total Drama who were eliminated early or did not compete got focused on in later seasons.
    • Justin, Beth, and Harold were eliminated in the first half of Island, but they received significant amounts of screentime in Action, with all of them making it to the merge (and Beth becoming a finalist). However, Justin and Beth did not compete in World Tour while Harold did compete but was ousted early on.
    • Cody, Noah, Ezekiel, and Tyler were largely Out of Focus from their elimination in Island until World Tour, where they received some more development. Unlike with Action however, only Cody made it to the merge (while Ezekiel was out first again), due to more focus being put on newcomers Alejandro and Sierra.
  • Danny Phantom gives, in its much maligned third season, an inordinate amount of focus on Sam Manson and her relationship with Danny, while the enemy ghosts had no more motivation than "Take over the world!"
  • In Visionaries, six out of the thirteen episodes were largely focused on an individual character. The episodes in question were:
    • "Feryl Steps Out" - focuses on Feryl
    • "Lion Hunt" - focuses on Leoric, though he spends most of the episode trapped in his Lion form
    • "The Overthrow of Merklynn" - focuses on Darkstorm
    • "The Power of the Wise" - focuses on Leoric
    • "Sorcery Squared" - focuses on Cryotek
    • "Honor Among Thieves" - focuses on Ectar
  • Defenders of the Earth has a number of episodes which place one (sometimes two) of the Defenders in the spotlight. The first such episode is "A Demon in His Pocket", which focuses on Kshin.
  • Supa Strikas: Each episode tends to focus on a particular character, and they usually make a point of it by making the cold open have a scene that focuses on that character.
  • The Super Hero Squad Show: The "Six Against Infinity" six-parter had each episode focus on one member of the Super Hero Squad after they had been stranded in different dimensions by the Dark Surfer.