Big and Bold: Parsing the Epic Part 2

This is the second of these posts dedicated to explaining what I feel the current state of the epic is, and how it applies to anime. The first one laid out a general outline of what an epic was and what it has become. In this one I’m going to examine scale and scope. I apologize ahead of time if any of this seems pedantic because it is.

Some semantics

So first of all, it is important that I define what I’m going to be talking about here. Okay, so it might not be important, but I do think 90 percent of all arguments start because of semantics, and defining terms ahead of time can avoid at least some of those.

Scope and scale are really pretty similar when you get right down to it. The basic question for scope is “How far reaching are the events of the story?” In essence, the question of scope is a question of effects. What happens when the heroes make the right decisions? Or the wrong decisions? Essentially what is at stake in the story? The question of scale is “How many people/worlds/characters/ships (etc.) are involved?” Scale is largely a question of size.

Now it may seem like I’m being a bit vague here. So I’ll try to demonstrate what constitutes a large scope versus a small scope and a large scale versus a small scale.

The epic and its opposite

Now I kind of touched on the fact that “slice of life” as a literary genre is the opposite of an epic. Mostly I avoided going into more detail because of the possible confusion of “slice of life” as an anime genre (which is similar, but I’m not quite convinced is the same.) Now “slice of life” stories, as the name implies, are stories about realistic characters living their everyday lives. Now it is a bit of a misnomer because in general it is a particularly important moment in that character’s life. In fact, it’s probably the most important moment in that character’s life. A great example of this would be “Sideways”. Essentially the story follows two friends as they take a road trip to the Napa valley region of California in the week before one of them is going to be married. For now, I’m going to leave the issue of character alone.

So the scope of the story is small in so many ways. The story only affects the handful of characters who are directly involved in it. There repercussion, while they may be important to the characters (and by extension the audience), they are not far-reaching. The world isn’t saved. Governments don’t tumble. Existence as we know it isn’t torn asunder.

We can see the comparison when we look at say LoGH. There the scope is huge. And it just gets bigger. It stretches across entire planets, countries and solar system. In fact in someway everyone is affected by the course of the story. If they aren’t, then they must have been hiding out on some starship with an android and a hologram and an evolved cat. (Okay, so I couldn’t resist the Red Dwarf reference.)

But I’ve already said that LoGH is an epic. In fact, everyone can agree that it’s epic in any category. But what if we take something that’s epic in scope, like say X. Essentially the repercussion and stakes affect everyone on the planet. Each time a Dragon of Heaven is defeated, the world inches closer to destruction. So the scope is huge.

However, the scale is not. While it does have 14 “main” characters, most of them are relatively minor. Leaving something much more like Sideways, with its four main characters, than something like LoGH with its twenty or so main characters. So while a story might have a very large scope (the stakes are the world), it might have a very small scale (but only a handful of people are involved in fighting it out.) Trigun is a great example of this. Knives is trying to destroy the world, but really only Vash, Millie, Meryl, Wolfwood and the Gung-Ho Guns are really involved in the story.

The effects of length

Now this is where I think length plays its biggest role. The longer the story, the bigger the scale, the bigger the scale the bigger the scope. Mostly because if the scale isn’t large enough at the beginning of the story, it’ll basically run out of steam. Honestly, I think this is one of the reasons for the dreaded filler episode in most shounen anime. The scale simply isn’t large enough at the beginning of the story to accommodate the length of the plot. It’s hard to have two major plotlines (or even three major plotlines) running at the same time when you only have one plucky hero as your title character.

However, I don’t think length is necessary for a truly large scale. One look at the third arc of Twelve Kingdoms shows that it’s quite possible to have three different plot lines involving a fairly large cast of characters in a fairly short span of time. And the plotlines themselves aren’t undercut by their brevity (in my opinion.) And the scope, well considering the central villain is a guy who’s trying to challenge divine will and dragging the entire Kingdom of Kou into it, I’d say it’s fairly epic.

A parting note

Now you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t really assigned an importance to either of these two things as far as judging the epic. And that’s partly because of my original assertion that it is quite possible for something to be more epic than something else. So if something has both an epic scale and an epic scope than it’s more epic than something that has just an epic scope.

To be honest though, scale and scope are largely the most empirically easy to judge. Where the question of the epic becomes harder (and more important) is when it comes to character. Especially when it involves their relationship to scale and scope. So that’s what I will address in the next piece of this.

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