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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:

  1. The diagram really exists and was created normally (e.g. by drawing it).
  1. The diagram really exists, but it appeared out of nowhere (as if pulled out of Hammerspace).
  2. The diagram doesn't really exist - it's just a visual representation of what the user is saying.

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.


Examples of Exposition Diagram include:


Anime and 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
    • Type one is 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 type 3 diagrams (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 uses a Type 3 chart to detail the strategy of the Karakura Superheroes against a giant Hollow.
    • Anime episode 146: Nel uses Type 3 charts to explain the nature of numbered Arrancar.
    • Anime episode 193: Szayelaporro Grantz uses a Type 3 as a slide show to demonstrate the difference between the protagonists' and their clones.
    • 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.
  • 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 by Dr. Stein when he outlines his plan to prevent the Kishin from being released.
    • Not so serious in practice, as the visuals had little chibi figures running around hitting one another.
  • In Naruto, the explanations of how chakra is generated and manipulated are often accompanied by diagrams
    • Type 3 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 Mahou Sensei Negima the most notable instance was a power-ranking chart composed by Jack Rakan, not to mention the Love Chart that Chamo pulls out.
  • This * probably NSFW* gem from Kodomo no Jikan
  • 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 type 3 diagram is sometimes used, in form of a mixture of schematic diagrams and portraits of various characters/personalities, and once the type 1 diagram drawn by Kannami himself on a sheet of paper.
  • Slayers Next uses type 3 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.
  • Types 2 and 3 tend to pop up all over the place in Ranma ½. 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 anime
    • "The Whistle Stop". Brock had a Type 2 chart as well as gaining a white lab coat out of nowhere while giving his lecture.
    • "Fighting Ire With Fire". James uses Type 1 pictures of Team Rocket's past exploits to demonstrate why they always lose.
  • Hanaukyo Maid Tai
    • Episode 4. Ryuuka uses a series of Type 3 examples 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 Type 2 signs to describe the nature and beneficial effects of the hot springs waters.
    • Episode 10. A Type 3 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 Type 2 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, a Type 3 sign appears with his father's face on it.
    • Episode 5 "Brittle Bullet". A Type 3 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!"


Comics

  • 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.

Fan Fiction


Film

  • Possibly in the movie version of Lord of the Rings, when Faramir's men implausibly whip out a handy map of Middle Earth, and explain everything that's happening.
  • Pay It Forward had this (they even used the diagram as the DVD menu), but there's still lots of exposition to go with it.
  • In the Back to The Future movies, on multiple occasions, Dr. Brown spends hours building elaborate models of the town to explain to his plans to Marty, and apologizes that everything isn't to scale.
  • In Memories of Nobody (one of the Bleach Movies), Kisuke Urahara uses a flipchart to explain to Ichigo what's going on.
  • Beetlejuice. Charles Deetz uses a Type 1 to show what his "Museum of the Paranormal" will look like.
  • Disney's Aladdin. The Genie uses a Type 2 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.
  • The Narrator in The Hallelujah Trail would use animated maps showing the movements of the various groups involved, until the situation got so confused that even the maps didn't help.
  • Jay and Silent Bob use diagrams in Mallrats to describe how they'll sabotage the dating game show.


Live Action Television

  • 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 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".
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Barney explains the correlation between a woman's attractiveness and insanity with the Hot/Crazy Scale, which he draws on the air and is visible only to the audience.
    • 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.
  • 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.


Video Games


Web Comics

  Elliot: Someone who makes unnecessary charts and graphs thinks I'm a stick-in-the-mud?!


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.
  • Usen 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.
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