In this article series, Lucy Rubin breaks down anime analysis for Around Akiba and shows how we can use it in our everyday anime-watching lives. This time, we will explore narrative range and depth.
What is range and depth of narration?
Previously, we covered narrative order and causality, two essential aspects to full narrative analysis. In this article, we will cover the second half of narrative analysis, and consider how these factors all work together to craft our understanding and emotional response to a film/show.
Depth and range are a spectrum indicating the audience’s knowledge of a narrative. The range of narration can go between restricted, in which the audience’s knowledge is limited to only what a particular character knows, to unrestricted, in which the audience can learn more than that of any single character. The depth of narration can range from subjective, in which the audience can delve deep into the thoughts and emotions of a character, to objective, in which the audience is limited to only knowing what characters say and do. These categories are not singular, but rather function on a spectrum that can develop over the course of a show or film.
(SPOILERS AHEAD) Let’s take a look at Madoka Magica. During much of the first third of the series, the audience is restricted to information that only Madoka knows. There are no scenes in which Madoka is not present, and we are privy to everything that she learns. However, as we move to later episodes, the show becomes more unrestricted in its narration. We are privileged more scenes with Homura and other characters that cue us into information that Madoka does not have (such as the impending arrival of Walpurgisnacht).
We rarely hear any internal monologue or have access to the mental subjectivity from characters for the majority of the series. This meaning that the show is relatively objective in its narration. But at the conclusion of episode 10, we are granted a narrated voiceover by Homura, that informs the audience of her larger goals and motivations – a choice that brings us to a place of more subjective narration. This is one of the main reasons that this moment is so captivating for audiences: it breaks the established pattern of objective narration and brings us to a new place of subjective narration.
If a show is working well (and Madoka Magica is) we are not necessarily thinking to ourselves “oh wow this is cool because there is a change in narration.” No – only people who have to go back and write about the show later are thinking that (and probably even they aren’t). But you know who’s job it is to think about that? The screenwriter, the director, the entirety of the production staff. They want to make this moment feel big, and one way in which they accomplish that is by suddenly granting the audience this piece of subjectivity. We can say that Madoka Magica ranges between varying levels of narration range and depth. The reason? Once more folks: emotional response.
Why do we watch anime?
(Big question, I know…) Many of us watch anime because we want to be entertained, we want to have an emotional response to something. Narrative analysis then, is the overall consideration of when, how much, and in what way, do we the audience, gain information, and most importantly, how does that affect us. If a show has a strong and well-constructed narrative, these combined narrative elements are being used in a way to which they influence our emotional response to a film/show, and we often consider these shows “good.”
Narrative does not function alone though. In movies and shows, narrative cannot function without style to support it, and style holds no meaning without narrative context. These two concepts are inexorably linked, but to consider how a show “works,” it is often most helpful to consider these two elements separately, and then move to examine how they work together. In the next article, we will take a look at narrative’s partner in crime: style.