Single serving media.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a damn long time. And I’m gonna start with the conclusion right here: movies are really the ideal single-serving medium. And I’m not saying that cos I like movies to the exclusion of everything else (though I do like them far better than everything else on average). It’s because–well, it’s really true, isn’t it. Media are meant to be consumed in myriad ways–as many media as there are in the world, there are different ways that you’re meant to consume it. The list of media on the side I have here says anime, comics, fine art, literature, movies, music, … sports …, television and video games. And even in these eight (forget sports, as Cee Lo would say), you have eight different experiences–despite the fact that anime is broadcast on television, and there is a deluge of music and fine art in movies, and you read comics in a manner similar to reading books. So what are the nitty-gritty differences between these things?
Well, let’s talk narrative differences to start with. Let’s go alphabetically: Anime is what I would call a single arc medium. It follows a protagonist from one end to another of their story–much like a good novel. Take, for instance, Neon Genesis Evangeli–psyche, K-On!. K-On!, the first series, follows normal high school girl Yui Hirasawa from the start of high school to the end of her second year, following her journey from sweetly bumbling klutz through her adventures with the school’s light music club and her new friends Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and later Azusa, to her eventual transformation into a young, responsible lead singer of a band. Now, I use K-On! in this example because, like a lot of single arc media, it eventually got a sequel in the form of K-On!!–note the second exclamation point. Now, the problem with single arc media and eventual sequel attempts is that the narrative arc–the growth of the protagonist–is complete. This means you either have to start anew with a new protagonist or erase all development that occurred in the first story. And K-On!!, from fan reaction anyway, went with the latter.
Yui was once again the bumbling ditz she always was in the first series, her growth undone. And this happens with all single arc media that are then sequelized–you see this in Back to the Future, when Marty suddenly becomes a hothead in Part II, you see this in Twilight, when… when… actually, screw Twilight, character development my foot. Code Geass hit a narrative stall in its second series, due to the fact that it had exhausted its narrative. Bioshock lost its direction after its main narrative trick was expended in the last act of the first game. Look forward to Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 continuing on after their protagonists have achieved everything they wanted to in the first movie. It’s sort of like the Matrix sequels–Neo’s already the one, so how far can this story really go?
Single arc media include anime, most novels, movies, most albums, miniseries in the United States and most video games, regardless of whether they receive sequels. However, video games and comics have something in common in execution–they can quickly become multi-arc abominations. Take, for instance, Action Comics. First issue was published in the 1930’s and it’s still running today. This means that