Prequels, Sequels, Originals: Knowing the Difference

Put yo thinking caps on

Gigantic franchises with multiple iterations often have newcomers thinking to themselves, “Where exactly do I start?”

Usually, folks assume that every franchise that contain iterations that fall into the same in-universe “timeline” require them to start at the very beginning of its chronology. And usually, all it ends up being is one big incorrect assumption.

What do you mean they're different?!

SAY WHAT?!

It seems that when people see the words “prequel” and “sequel”, they often think of them as “a story that comes before another story” and “a story that comes after another story” respectively. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s only half-right. What “prequel” and “sequel” both really mean is “a story with events that occur before the original work” and “a story with events that occur after the original work” respectively.

At first glance, my modification there might seem to make little difference, but the context there actually changes greatly. They either come before or after the original work… and by original work, I mean, “the story that was available to the public first“. It’s not just some first/second/third nonsense, but an order in which the creators intended the viewers/readers/players to experience the franchise naturally according to which one came out first.

Pray to the gods that you’ll be able to stay with me here… well, here goes: Let’s say we have [X], the original work, and after it proves to be a success, “[X] 0” is released the very next year. Intended to expand on the original’s events by exploring events that happen before, it would then be the prequel of [X]. But then let’s say “[X] 2“, the sequel to X, gets released some time after, intended to expand the events of the original by exploring what happens after. Does this make the original work a “prequel” to it? No. Because that’s not what “prequel” means. Just the same, [X], the original work, isn’t a sequel to [X] 0, the prequel.

Prequels may be written to portray events that happen before the original work, but most of the time they’re not meant to be viewed first. In fact, in most cases they’re meant to be viewed after. The exact same thing goes for sequels. Thus, the original work is neither a prequel nor a sequel to anything, because it’s meant to be the work viewed first… obviously, because it’s the first installment. Now, that’s not to say that it’s always a bad thing to view things “in-order” in terms of in-canon timelines for every franchise, but experiencing them from the angle I’m suggesting is always a safe bet.

If you weren’t a newcomer and experienced the franchise from its very roots, it’s not like you were being introduced to any game-breaking spoilers. After all, the way you experienced it is the way the creator(s) released it accordingly, with your enjoyment in mind.

To use an example, let’s use Star Wars, in which its spoilers are now pretty much ingrained into pop-culture (so I don’t think I’m ruining anything for… well, the majority). It’s not like we call Episodes IV-VI the “sequel trilogy”. No. Episodes I-III are the “(shitty) prequel trilogy” and Episodes IV-VI are the “original trilogy.” Believe it or not, before the prequel trilogy ever existed, no one knew that Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader before the reveal. If one knew nothing about Star Wars and they watch the prequel trilogy first, then the gigantic twist that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker in the original would be ruined. It’s not like the knowledge that Anakin will become Vader in the prequel trilogy would be a major spoiler, because the entire point of the prequel trilogy is witnessing his descent to the dark side, i.e. how Anakin becomes Darth Vader. You would have to had known about it first, ergo you had to have watched the original trilogy first.

Humanity Has Declined

Humanity Has Declined

Bottom-line is… sequels and prequels are always written with you having had experienced the original in mind. So it’s always a safe bet to, you know, experience everything in the order of release instead of jumping headfirst into prequels and sequels, because that’s probably how the so-called “veteran” fans experienced it anyway. This is also why it’s my personal belief that those anime fans who jump into anime series that require prior knowledge of something, especially something that might not even be an anime, and then complain about loose ends/not being standalone/whatnot are, well, idiots. It’s like watching a comedy anime that pokes fun at a specific genre that you don’t really know anything about and then complaining about not understanding anything. If it’s a prequel anime, then what’s the point of complaining about loose ends being left over? It’s dumb, but I digress.

tl;dr
A story that comes before =/= Prequel
Prequel = A story that takes place before a previous work (usually the original work)
A story that comes after =/= Sequel
Sequel = A story that takes place after a previous work (usually the original work)
Original work = The very first installment of a series

Examples:

  • Fate/stay night (visual novel) is the original work. Fate/Zero is the prequel. Fate/Hollow Ataraxia (visual novel) is the sequel.
  • Fate/stay night is not a sequel to Fate/Zero and is meant to be read first. Fate/stay night is not a prequel to Fate/Hollow Ataraxia.

  • Ga-Rei (manga) is the original work. Ga-Rei Zero is the prequel.
  • Ga-Rei is not a sequel to Ga-Rei Zero and is meant to be read first.

  • Rurouni Kenshin is the original work. Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen is the prequel (in fact, it’s adapted from a flashback that happens in the last arc of the former!).
  • Rurouni Kenshin is not a sequel to Tsuiokuhen and is meant to be seen first.

  • Gyakuten Saiban is the original work. Gyakuten Saiban 2 is the sequel. Gyakuten Saiban 3 is the sequel of the sequel. Gyakuten Saiban 4 is the sequel to the original triolgy. Gyakuten Saiban 5 is the sequel to the sequel to the original trilogy. Etc. Should be played in order, period.

One thought on “Prequels, Sequels, Originals: Knowing the Difference”

Leave a Reply