We all are familiar with tropes. Every serie uses them, if they say they don’t they lie. No series is without these golden geese that resonate with so many people and that can be told so many times over. Yet sometimes we are discovering tropes that we really are beginning to dislike. “Again?” we ask when we see them. We do not enjoy them and display some respiratory phenomena called sighs! Yet clearly there are people who still love these tropes! Otherwise people would not use them anymore! So how do we address these issues? We could blatantly hate on them sure.. but how about we try to fix them. How can we adapt a trope that no longer works for us into something that does without taking away from other people? I shall strap my little had with a cross on top on.. and view one of my least like tropes. The Break up
So what exactly do I mean with the break up? It is a trope that features highly in many shows and movies. I am not talking about official romantic break-up , I am talking about when a main cast has a falling out, squabbles and decides not to hang out any more for whatever reason. This trope is highly present in basically any “monster of the week” type shoes, like Magical Girls, Sentai even in plenty of mecha and fantasy show. The trope usually has one character overhear or catch wind of something another character said..oftenly without context. It could also be a rivalry that is beginning to form.. for example both characters realising they are into the same guy. This trope seems to occur faster and more often across female characters but male characters and non binaries will be affected too. This can even affect animals or robots at time showing the problem might be bigger than a pure psycho emotional reaction. The breakup usually is displayed in one of three forms.
-The Misunderstanding: “I wish A would be a bit braver” says character B to C when A just was about to come in carrying cupcakes. A thinks they think of him/her as weak .. drops the cupcakes and runs away. The conversation continues and B tells C “She should just tell her mother he wants to come with the lake to us, we would have so much fun together’ When they find the cupcakes and something is Awry B and C try to talk to A..the latter annoys them by attacking them personally and now tensions are high and the group is split apart.
-The Squabble: On Valentines Day Character A B and C all hand chocolate to douchebag D.. who doesn’t acknowledge any of their love and just thanks them all for the chocolate. Completely unaware that they will never get the D they argue who has the most right to be with D as the split up. Usually this will result in just about every petty wrongdoing they ever did to each other being brought up. “You give me the coldest tea always” “that one time you did not say thank you when I rearranged your plushies for you” usually followed by a “I knew you always hated me!” which is often met with a sarcastic acknowledgment..because why talk things trough right away?
– The Manipulation: Evildoers finally figure out they can not beat the good guys because they work so well as a team, so they transform into classmates and walk up to person B and go like “hey have you heard that A said this about you” , before person B can march to person A to find answers a disguised bad guy is telling some bad rumors the other way around as well, somehow despite knowing each other very well the two do not believe they did not trash talk each other.. and fight.
These are of course generalised situations that however depict vividly how a situation would be. While some of the factors involved may very in the core these are the three main manifestations of the trope. More presently in “episodic” storytelling but also present in any other long running story that focus heavily on companionship.
Now what exactly is the trouble with this trope you may ask? Strife and sorrow can indeed stimulate empathie between two individuals involved. It can create stronger bonds and reactions as well function as a mirror into a character’s psyche to highlight any flaws or desires. These form problems that can not be achieved through the conventional problem solving techniques of the hero dus create a more dimensional story. Hence the break-up should by all means be a beneficiary story telling device. However many, MANY anime have not been able to produce these effects. In fact it may result in a uninvested audience, a forced narrative and a blemish on previously written material. This trope is usually not used in episodes that are very relevant to the main plot, which results in ample problems as described below.
No Tension: Most instances of a Break-Up usually do not exceed the length of a single episode. This means the deterioration of bonds, the breaking incident, the solo flight as well as the inevitable reunion make little to no impact on any of the major narrative. These break-ups are near always finite in time and the audience can tell if this is the case. At least if the audience is neither a child nor stupid. Usually episodes are titled something like “broken bonds.. our group is now trough” already telegraphing what kind of episode it will be .. thusly after the open credits the audience already knows how the full 20 minutes will go.
Throwaway Events: Another symptom of a bad break up is usually.. the level of relevance to the rest of the show. The Status Quo usually isn’t any different at the beginning of such an episode compared to how it us after the episode. As such it might as well not have happened at all. Characters usually go back from great friends to hating each other to great friends again. Very rarely do they use this trope to improve.. or even less often deteriorate that bond.
Inconsistent Characters: The Break-Up tends to be a force of nature that is very negative in nature. No matter how good trust is between characters this trope will activate anyway. Reasonable characters suddenly get extremely fickle and childish and the sweet girl suddenly can’t find an ounce of kindness in her heart. Even when the world is at stake.. boys somehow weigh heavier upon girls hearts and more of this nonsense. Characters oftenly change and change back to fit the limited narrative of a single episode just to bounce back after seeing a plushie, a flower or a phone strap triggering memories.
All things considered this trope does not only waste an otherwise enjoyable 20 minutes it also is to the detriment of long running characters. It is hard to understand why a guy suddenly distrusts his best friends after seeing him with a few crumbs on his shirt. We can justify it and say.. his mind was poisoned by that item and that druggy looking fellow yet it still is a stab through the heart. We see their friendship build up as an unbreakable thing and than the most unlikely character destroys it in the most unlikely way and because we all know this chase in behavior won’t stick we just dislike the characters for being so stupid to buy into this.
So how do we fix this? The simplest solution would be simply to add weight. But how can we do this in the oftenly breezy shows where this trope is featured in? We could simply let one get “killed” in their powerless state with others having to find a replacement but this would not be very satisfying. It would also be to grim of a decision and invalidate the break up right away .. because there is nothing to fix or grow over anymore. Yet in some cases it can still work. In scenarios where there is an unequal level of relevance of the characters the less relevant character can be killed of in such a way.. in order for the main character to focus on that pettiness that ended up getting their compatriot killed. Still this would be a too extreme reaction to fix the trope. However the shake the trope up a bit .. the final break up would be a good solution.
A less obvious way is to let the break up stick for a while. Do not tell this story in a single episode. Make sure the heroes still have a way to progress without the character. Give them a replacement.. a character that knows about their secret identity that can take up the mantle of the character that quit. That magical girl.. gets replaced by another one. This other character can be made to be a temporary one.. perhaps the powers do not agree well with her, perhaps the new character is actually a betrayer, it can even be as simple as the new character only being in town for a few days or simply not being good enough.
By not showing a character for a few episodes we can start to miss them, we can appreciate the character that was there and see how we don’t want it replaced. You can show a lack of synergy in the new format, to highlight what has come before. You can see the outcast element coming to terms with what happend, missing being a hero or realizing where they were wrong in an arc rather than an episode. Despite that we would know how it would end , the new element can still allow us to tell a multitude of stories that impact everyone involved and make for a memorable story line.
Another way this trope can be improved is by simply moving it earlier in the lifetime of a show. A group fighting only eight episodes in after barely getting to know each other is fairly realistic. A group having a falling out over something as simple as boys after losing loved ones together, a group squabbling over something petty 23 episodes into a series near it’s finale makes no sense. Early in a series this trope can be used to define a bond between characters. Perhaps this event can trigger a deeper trust as they were forced to overcome their differences together to deal with a new threat.. but t could also be used to keep a dissonance between two or more people that perhaps has to be solved across numerous episodes. Perhaps one girl was really hurt by the mistrust that was shown at her and she doesn’t feel as much a part of the group due to that discussion in episode 8, not feeling like she is good enough for the group, limiting her powers in episodes 15 where she fails and episode 19 where she overcomes it.
What is very important for the health of this trope is that we do not employ it to filler style episodes. This trope has to show some character development and needs some time to breath to reach its full potential. Rome is was not build in a day, and you can not make a character’s departure from the group relevant in ten minutes of screentime. It simply does not work like this. While the trope has the side effect of a bad taste in your mouth, applying it earlier in the lifespan of a show will make sure the taste is properly washed away without any salty feelings from the viewership, we can not condemn a character we do not know yet after all.
It is recommended that the show does not use this trope past the midway point for single season series. It would negate to much of what the show has tried to build in that single season. For longer running series the recommended dosage is never more than once per season and not more than once per two seasons. We do not like on and off again partnerships as it makes our heroes oftenly feel shallow and fickle. When this trope is applied more than once it has to be in increasing gravitas as incidents of a similar level will once again invalidate character growth. A clever writer can use decreasing seriousness if he wants to emphasis a constantly souring bond between characters however in this latter scenario this break up would most likely lead to a permanent goodbye as applying miracle fixes is just as character invalidating as miracle fighting. Give characters at least two to three weeks to recover for optimale presentation.
And there we go! A fix for one of my least like tropes in Anime and other media! Do you think my changes would make it better? What trope do you dislike yourself? Do you like the break up trope yourself? Let me know in the comments what you think! I can only mindread if I see you in person! Remember I love you all! Let’s keep the Internet a Happy Place and Keep Smiling!