31 Days of Post (2) Day 20: The Discovered Epic
Epic is a staple of fantasy literature, whether it is prose, comics, or film. But what is epic? An epic, in the context of fantasy literature, is a narrative of great import to the world of the text. The Lord of the Rings is about the quest of Frodo Baggins and his companions to destroy the One Ring and consequently save Middle Earth from Sauron’s tyranny. That is epic storytelling. But sometimes, a narrative isn’t clearly epic, at least not in the beginning. Indeed, it sometimes takes a while before the narrative begins to take on an epic scope. This is what I call a discovered epic.
The most obvious example of a discovered epic would be Naruto. Originally about a young boy’s dreams of acknowledgement, the series has morphed into a battle for the fate of humanity. And this has really only been true for the past four years of the series.
Another series that is in the process of becoming a discovered epic (from being originally heroic fantasy) is Fairy Tail. If one reads ahead, one will know that the final conflict of the series will be an epic showdown with the Black Wizard, Zeref. The results of that showdown will, no doubt, change the face of Earth Land.
Even some series that are already called epic might be a type of discovered epic. Take Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. Harry Potter doesn’t become epic until around the fifth book of a seven book series. And, so far, A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be a collection of historical fantasy novellas rather than an epic. But that, too, may change as the various narrative threads come together.
So, what makes a discovered epic? Serialization. In a narrative disjointed by serialization, there is a lot of room for “growing” the narrative. It is unlikely that there are solid plans for the narrative as a whole from the beginning.
Becoming epic, however, fundamentally changes the nature of the work. And not always for the better, I think.
Take Naruto, for example, The heart of the series is Naruto’s relationship with Sasuke. All of this epic prophesied messiah crap just gets in the way of the real story: trying to bring a prodigal friend/ brother home. That is why I argue that Sasuke is, in many ways, the actual main antagonist of the whole series. Until his most recent heel face turn that completely ruined the whole thing. (Okay, let me calm down before I go on another Naruto rant).
Another series that likely is damaged by moving into a more epic mode is Naturo’s sibling series Bleach. One epic story is enough. But two? I don’t know. . . But in all fairness to Bleach, I haven’t read the series in a long while.
So far, I’ve only looked at how becoming epic changes a long running shonen manga series. But I’m sure other long running forms have similarly been changed when the epic part of the narrative begins. But, to be honest, I really want to do more research on this. I really need to read more manga. And find good academic analysis of manga.
As a series grows larger, it is tempting to give the narrative an equally larger scope. It is only in reading that one will discover if this increase in size/ scope is a good or bad thing.