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Exposition Diagram

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So, Mr. Exposition's here and he's about to give a quick introduction to the magic system, outline his plan to defeat the Big Bad and explain where those nasty beasties hail from. Unfortunately, it's hard to explain this to the audience. It may be too complex (or dull) to explain in just words, or perhaps the producers don't want to be accused of resorting to Mr. Exposition talking for 5 minutes. Either way there's an easy solution: draw them a diagram. A diagram for the purpose of exposition.

Note that this only applies if the diagram is there for the benefit of the audience. Whether or not the cast themselves can see it is incidental (so a diagram which the audience can't see or isn't part of any exposition doesn't count). Variations can include examples where:

Often the explainer will use drawings in universe too (which may be subject to Stylistic Suck). See String Theory for when things are less organised or viewer friendly. See also Rebus Bubble for another sort of visual representations. See Formula for the Unformulable when a character tries to solve a non-scientific problem with maths and science. If the exposition is about what will happen should the heroes fail, you're Storyboarding the Apocalypse.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure employs these often, because trying to comprehend the heroes' complex schemes for beating the bad guys would be difficult without visual aid.
  • Bleach:
    • In-universe drawn diagrams are often used in to explain concepts (such as hollows in the very first episode/issue). If Rukia's around (and she will be) she'll draw the diagrams herself, using poor drawings of rabbits. Much to Ichigo's annoyance.
    • Anime episode 22: Ganju Shiba uses the visible only to the audience sort (with Japanese writing) while introducing himself.
    • Anime episode 23: Orihime Inoue, Chad and Uryu use Type 3 diagrams when discussing what Yoruichi's friend Kūkaku Shiba looks like. Then Orihime draws a Type 1 diagram in the dirt to combine their ideas together.
    • Anime episode 33: Don Kanonji a chart appears to detail the strategy of the Karakura Superheroes against a giant Hollow.
    • Anime episode 146: Nel explaination of the nature of numbered Arrancar is accompanied with diagrams for the audience.
    • Anime episode 193: Szayelaporro Grantz uses a slide show to demonstrate the difference between the protagonists' and their clones to the audience.
    • Anime episode 197: During the fight between Espada #7 (Zommari Rureaux) and Captain Byakuya Kuchiki, Rureaux gives Captain Kuchiki a lecture about control and the nature of his special eye power.
    • In Bleach: Memories of Nobody, Kisuke Urahara uses a flipchart to explain to Ichigo what's going on.
  • Soul Eater had these on occasion, such as when Death the Kid explained why he preferred the number 8 to 7 (because it's symmetrical, for those who don't know), and more seriously (or as seriously as you can get with little chibis running into each other) by Dr. Stein when he outlines his plan to prevent the Kishin from being released.
  • In Naruto, the explanations of how chakra is generated and manipulated are often accompanied by diagrams
    • Audience only diagrams are also used when discussing strategies.
  • In One Piece, inset panels explaining their Devil's Fruit abilities accompanied the reintroduction of Buggy the Clown, Mr. 2 Bon Clay and Crocodile.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi the most notable instance was a power-ranking chart composed by Jack Rakan, not to mention the Love Chart that Chamo pulls out.
    • In another example, Eva explains how Negi uses her resort to pack two days into one.
    • Heck, this is so common in Negima that even the Bad Guys use it to explain things.
  • In Liar Game, when Akiyama/Yokoya begins drawing one of these, expect the other side to go Oh, Crap!.
  • In Change 123, when the Insufferable Genius Kannami explains certain aspects of Motoko's Multiple Personalities (and once when explaining Hibiki her mother's family history), the audience only diagram is sometimes used, in form of a mixture of schematic diagrams and portraits of various characters/personalities, and once a diagram drawn by Kannami himself on a sheet of paper.
  • Slayers Next uses an audience only diagram after the filler arc. At the beginning of the episode that returns to the serious plot, Lina recaps the situation with Gaav while a helpful diagram displays the Mazoku lords and their relations to each other.
  • Unexplained and audience only examples tend to pop up all over the place in Ranma ˝. They appear out of nowhere, and are gone in the next scene. Sometimes the diagram obviously doesn't actually exist, but the characters turn around and react to it anyway.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • "The Whistle Stop." Brock had a chart and gained a white lab coat out of nowhere while giving his lecture.
    • "Fighting Ire With Fire." James uses pictures of Team Rocket's past exploits to demonstrate why they always lose.
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team:
    • Episode 4. Ryuuka uses a series of audience-only diagrams to explain the rivalry between the Jihyou and Hanaukyo families.
    • Episode 7. While in a hot springs house Taro's 3 personal maids hold up signs they pull from nowhere to describe the nature and beneficial effects of the hot springs waters.
    • Episode 10. An audience only example when Mariel lists Taro's daily activities and they appear (as if being typed) in the air over Taro's head, gradually squashing his head down.
    • La Verite episode 5. While the protagonists are at Comiket, a message in Japanese appears over Mariel's head.
    • La Verite episode 7. During an underground expedition, two of Taro's personal maids hold up signs (which they pulled out of nowhere) with Japanese writing indicating they give up and don't want to go any further.
  • FLCL:
    • Episode 3 "Marquis de Carabas." While Naota is talking to Haruko about his father, an audience only sign appears with his father's face on it.
    • Episode 5 "Brittle Bullet." A blackboard appears while Haruko is wearing the Elvis Presley costume.
  • In The World God Only Knows, Katsuragi Keima uses several diagrams to explain his "Conquest" strategies. Probably the most recognizable of these is the diagram explaining his flower metaphor which appears in the Ayumi and Chihiro arcs. According to the diagram encounters with the heroine function to water the flower of love. "It needs lots of water to bloom!"
  • In Kurosagi, whenever Kurosaki describes a swindling job a diagram appears to help the reader follow his words and get the flow.
  • Saijou no Meii: Imaginary diagrams are used in almost every chapter in the series to explain medical procedures, politics, and terminology.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • When Kyubey presents a hypothesis about Madoka's impossibly huge magical potential - that becoming the centre of multiple timelines, due to Homura's powers, has multiplied it exponentially - we see a diagram of Madoka with several fine ropes, representative of timelines, converging and tangling around her body, superimposed over the image of a clock.
    • The same diagram comes back (except with Homura in Madoka's place) when Kyubey explains that Homura will immediately transform into a witch if she even doubts her goal for a second, due to multiple timelines' worth of Grief lurking in her Soul Gem.
  • Futari Ecchi draws figures and diagrams to narrate sex education. The manga is surprisingly knowledgeable when it comes to a mutual relationship development.
  • Throughout Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, when Yusei Fudo comes up with a game-winning combo, it will sometimes be visualized as the relevant cards being connected with String Theory.

    Comic Books 
  • This was often a feature of JLA/JSA team-ups in DC Comics during the '60s and '70s. Since the teams existed on Earth-1 and Earth-2, the stories invariably included a page or so explaining the Alternate Universe concept for those who are unfamiliar with it. Often, this would involve Dr. Fate or some other character and a visual literally showing the multiple versions of Earth with comparative illustrations of, e.g., the Flash of Earth-1 and the Flash of Earth-2. The issue of whether the illustrations and diagrams actually exist In-Universe or not is usually kinda fudged.
  • In Mort: The Big Comic, the explanation of the Trousers of Time from the book is illustrated with the Librarian drawing a bifurcating diagram on a blackboard.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Aladdin. The Genie conjurs up a blackboard that's hanging in the air to advise Aladdin about how to handle Princess Jasmine. It says "Tell her the..." [flips over] TRUTH!"
  • Gru in Despicable Me explains his plan to steal the moon. The girls have inserted a drawing of him on the toilet into it.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk pulls a handy diagram from off the top of the screen to illustrate how it makes no sense that he and Yzma were able to beat Pacha and Kuzco in a race back to the palace.
  • In Turning Red, Abby passes a note to Stacy about where to get panda pictures which is communicated with a drawing of a camera next to one of a red panda.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In an incredibly rare literary example, Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy not only includes them, but is packed with them. He has put a few in his other literary works, such as Schild's Ladder, but Orthogonal defies comparison. On average, at least two or three appear in almost every chapter, especially in the second book. More or less justified in Real Life, because the near-constant Techno Babble would be even more difficult to follow without them. He tones it down for the third book in the trilogy, though.
  • Robert McCloskey's Centerburg Tales depicts a diagram Uncle Ulysses sketched on a napkin to illustrate a problem he has with one of Grampa Hercules' tall tales.
  • Harrow the Ninth: Mercymorn draws up a diagram to explain what the Undead Abomination Resurrection Beasts are, detail how they interact with the regions of The Underworld, and plan a defense against an approaching Beast. In a moment of Bathos, she's a Terrible Artist, so the discussion of the apocalyptic threat gets sidelined while people critique the illustrations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Possible aversion or subversion: The 2000's Battlestar Galactica had a scene where Crash, leading a group of mixed soldiers and civilians against the Cylons, made diagrams for his troops out of sticks, rocks and leaves. The others really, really tried to take him seriously, but as most of you can imagine, it was really, really hard. The scene illustrated how Crash, despite being the highest ranking officer of the group, had very little actual ground combat experience.
  • Stargate SG-1 does this A LOT, although usually Mr. Exposition's drawn "diagram" is actually a flashy computer animation s/he threw together in five minutes. Examples include: Jackson in the first movie explaining the 7-symbol address system; Carter explaining how many Tollan ion guns they'd need to defend Earth; Zelenka explaining why Atlantis' self-destruct would leave chunks large enough for the Wraith to salvage Ancient technology; Dr. Lee explaining how to tell Atlantis they have a bomb in the city without directly dialing their Stargate; Rush explaining that Destiny will leave the galaxy soon, but that it's still possible to send a team backwards through the gates to rescue the stranded main characters.
  • Parodied in the Father Ted episode "Speed 3". When Ted has a "Eureka!" Moment, he starts furiously scribbling on a blackboard while narrating his train of thought. After this, we discover that the "diagram" consists entirely of the text "WE PUT THE BRICK ON THE ACCELERATOR".
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Barney has a rule for how crazy a woman can be given her attractiveness. He explains this "Hot/Crazy Scale", by drawing a diagram that is only visible to the audience. Amusingly, he gets the diagram wrong. Going by the way he drew it, losing ten pounds and getting a boob job made Vicki Mendoza less crazy and no hotter while stabbing him with a fork made her both hotter and crazier.
    • The trope is inverted in another episode, where Marshall has a number of charts and graphs that are real and of a clear origin, but doesn't use them to explain anything important. He just really likes charts and graphs. Notable examples include his bar graph of his favorite pies and his pie chart of his favorite bars.
  • Scrapheap Challenge used these on occasion when explaining the physics and/or engineering principles being used for this week's project.
  • NUMB3RS used these Once an Episode, in the form of an Imagine Spot of whatever analogy Charlie (or occasionally Larry or Amita) was using for his math, overlaid with some relevant (or at least relevant-looking) equations and graphs and stuff.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" features a scene with the main cast in a university lecture hall looking at hand-drawn slides. What makes this scene somewhat unique is that since everyone's voices have been stolen by a wandering group of demons, they actually have to draw diagrams of the situation to be understood at all.
  • MythBusters uses expository diagrams constantly, sometimes with a voiceover and sometimes described by the cast themselves.
  • In a couple of episodes of Blake's 7, Blake will draw on an electronic notepad with a lightpen, with the result appearing on Master Computer Zen's interface screen.
  • In Switched, the non-diagetic variant when Koshiro explains the plan to switch Umine and Ayumi back, we are shown one of these.
  • In the episode of Thunderbirds Terror in New York City, the plan to move the Empire State Building is explained by the characters watching the news on television, with diagrams showing exactly how this will be done.

    Video Games 


    Web Video 
  • World War II: One is overlaid as a sidebar graphic to explain the almost farcical journey of French general Maxime Weygand in May 1940 to organize a counterattack against the German invasion. A complicated shuffle around France and Belgium, involving Belgian King Leopold III, a stop at a country inn for an omelet, a perceived snub by a fellow commander, and a major army group left without anyone in charge in this time of major crisis.

    Western Animation 
  • Dr. Drakken does it a few times in Kim Possible, once displaying the plan to derail a train and steal its cargo with a train set; one when he just happens to be carrying a diagram showing he and Shego breaking into a lab stealing Ray X. Another time, having captured Kim, he pulls up a flipchart to explain the particularly elaborate belt-and-braces approach of the Death Trap he's going to dispose of her with.
  • One time in Phineas and Ferb, Dr. Doofensmirch catches Perry in a trap and begins to explain his take over the tri-state area plan. The last slide is a picture of himself explaining the plan to Perry.
    • Even better was the time he did his evil monologue in pop-up book form, which again ends with him explaining the plan to Perry.
  • Used on Jimmy Two-Shoes when Jimmy is Breaking the Fourth Wall to explain weavils to new viewers.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, before the attack on the Fire Nation capitol on the Day of Black Sun, there is a quick explanation of the plan via diagrams and maps. Earlier, Sokka's diagram of the days leading up to the plan is patterned after the writer's diagram of the season.
  • Often used in Futurama, usually by the Professor using a hologram projector in the main meeting room table.
  • Oggy and the Cockroaches: Appears on a black board in several episodes, when the cockroaches plan on trapping Oggy or when Jack wants to ensnare the cockroaches. A notable case occurs in the episode "Don't Rock the Cradle", in which Oggy babysits. A very enthusiastic Joey sets up a plan to keep a baby as a hostage in order to get a ransom from Oggy, but the two other cockroaches seem to have trouble understanding the diagram. It happens a second time in the episode.