Time Skips in Animation | The Art of Evolving Plot Through Time

A time skip is a storytelling device used in film and animation to rapidly develop the plot and characters by allowing an amount of time pass, often unseen by the viewer, leaving the audience with the aftermath of such progression. When done right, it can be one of the greatest plot-pushing techniques within a narrative. It is sometimes utilised in Japanese anime but is not uncommon in western animation too. What makes this technique stand tall with other narrative forms?

For long running anime, usually shonen (manga aimed at young male teens) such as Naruto and One Piece, the time skip can allow for a moment of the finale to suddenly jump to a better starting point for a new part of the story, without the creators having to drag viewers through endless development. For these series, it manages to refresh the monotony that can be prevalent in a lengthy series. It bypasses any stale qualities, in a way, rewriting the setting, tone and style of the series.

One Piece does an amazing job of this, allowing for something even as simple as a design change to inject new life and characterisation into the show. Naruto does this beautifully too, although many prefer the earlier more light-hearted tales, letting a new part of the story build on the older ones and weave new characters into an already solid narrative.

A time skip doesn’t need major buildup to have an impact. The time skip in animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars is there to show the sheer scope of the war and the development of the cast rather than acting as a situational cause based on the effects of some antagonistic force, like in One Piece.

Sometimes, the time skip doesn’t quite feel right and sometimes it pays of magnificently. Sure, characters and relationships progress during this time and yet, sometimes, it feels forced. Another type of skip, is not between episodes, but between seasons, and this can lead us to a better appreciation for the now standalone advancement of the next season.

This works well in Samurai Jack for example, where 50 years pass between seasons four and five. But, (and I may be attacked for this) the writer’s decision in Young Justice, the DC series, to have a time skip between each season and almost forego character development in favour of showing audiences more heroes, felt too jarring.

When a series goes on hiatus for a while, as Jack did, this skip, although not necessary, helps to fuel the mythology within the artform. That said, during the filler episodes of a long running anime, a time skip can certainly break up monotony, provide a jump in narrative and force the artists to rethink their character colour schemes, motivations and personalities, leaving us with characters who are hardened physically and mentally.

We often see the cinematic montage effect, used as a means of developing the time skip, often accompanied by a musical backing track. We see this in Tarzan and Frozen, as our protagonists grow older and wiser, and during the iconic beginning of Pixar’s Up for emotional impact, building on happiness before juxtaposing that with a shot of despair. No matter what the goal, the time skip is intended to depict change, in whatever form that may be.

In most cases, we see changes that actually provide a nostalgia for the previous incarnation. Sometimes, characters become a mess, a shadow of what we loved about the younger version but for the most part, we get an amazing chance to witness growth and world building through the jump. The key is to do it when necessary and not just to prove that a series can skip forward. It is one thing to jump forward in continuity, it is another thing, to do it well.

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