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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, where it's a side character who takes centre 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.
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 managa ran in Nakayoshi, it's 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 adapated 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 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.
- 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.
- The treatment of Conrad in Kyou Kara Maou 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.
- Nagaru Tanigawa, the guy who created the Suzumiya Haruhi 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Zero no Tsukaima gets her own spinoff manga.
- THE iDOLM@STER - Every one of the idols has a focus episode, some more than others tough.
- 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.
- Well, except for the members of the team who aren't long-runners or Creator's Pets. Hey, remember Thunderbird II from a few years back, and his engrossing personality and backstory? Yeah, me neither.
- 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.
- 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 Fan Girl favorite Tobias' books tended to be very emotional, philosophical and dramatic. While his books had comic relief, he never narrated a primarily light-hearted, lower-stakes story, leading to cries of "Wangst!" and "emohawk!" 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.
- "Real literature" example: every chapter in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Fey series tells the story from the viewpoint of a different character.
- Robert Asprin's MYTH 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.
- Starting with The New Prophecy, each book of Warrior Cats 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 where the focal character is Jayfeather, not the covercat Stoneteller).
- 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.
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: The episode "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.
- Done quite often in El Goonish Shive, thanks to the fact that there is no central protagonist between the eight main characters.
- Used several times in 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 it's 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 focuses on each member of the team. "Happy Harbour" was for Miss Martian. "Drop Zone" was Robin. "Schooled" was Superboy. "Infiltrator" was Artemis. "Denial" was Kid Flash. "Downtime" was Aqualad.
- "Happy Harbor" Doesn't seem to be one of these episodes, as "Bereft" focuses a lot more on her. The same thing may Happen for Artemis, as the episodes listed above are their introductory episodes.
- In Thundercats 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.
- Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes has several.
- 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 less than 3 characters.
- Most episodes of Teen Titans 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 early in Island, but they received significant screen time in Action. 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 more development, especially Cody.