At four weeks into the Autumn season of anime I’m now reflecting on the choices I made about what to watch and what to pass on. A lot of these choices are made at episode 1 (even if they aren’t confirmed I really do start leaning heavily towards watching or dropping something during that first episode).
This season I probably sampled more shows than ever before and I watched shows with blurbs that I would usually have never touched (To Be Hero definitely fell in this category). So this time around I decided to think about what I like and don’t like in a first episode and what are some of the major factors that will make me walk away from a show early on.
These are just my thoughts and I’d love to hear yours below.
Like most things it is easier to start with what I definitely don’t like in a first episode rather than defining what I actually do like. The main things that will see me bailing at episode 1 (or soon after) are:
It’s hideously ugly or the character designs creep me out to the point where I’m not paying attention to the story. This one is really subjective but it was a lot of the reason why I never got into Mob Psycho 100 (okay it isn’t ugly but its unique style is not one that really appealed to me). And to take a second swipe at To Be Hero, it fit into this category as well (though clearly they were hoping that the appearance would add to the ‘humour’ of the situation).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, its pretty and bubbly and bright and excessively chirpy to boot. Sorry, I just can’t handle stories about idols and happy groups of people bouncing along to reach their dreams (reason why I didn’t even try Love Live or any thing similar)..
While I don’t need my anime characters to be miserable, I’d really prefer not feeling like their smile was about to knock me out of my seat every two seconds while viewing. Dream festival definitely hit this button for me and got dropped before I even finished the first episode. Maybe it doesn’t stay this bright and bubbly throughout but it was all just too many sparkles.
Moving away from the appearance of things, a first episode where nothing happens is usually enough for me to call it a day. Or rather, stuff happens but I either don’t care about it anyway or the show gives me no reason to be invested in the outcome. Touken Ranbu Hanmaru fell into this category.
An episode spent semi-introducing so many characters I couldn’t remember their names before plunging into a badly choreographed fight sequence where I didn’t care if anyone was injured or who won because I’d been given no reason to and this anime hit the chopping block. Last season it was Scared Riders Xechs that I gave up on due to lack of caring about anything that happened in episode 1.
The last thing that really causes me to run away from a show is absolute atrocious execution of an idea. This is probably the one that annoys me the most because you can sense that somewhere in amongst the mire of poorly delivered dialogue and frantic jumping around there just might be a brilliant story buried, but you aren’t going to find it.
Occult;Nine nailed this by minute 5 and while I forced myself to sit through the remainder of the episode I already knew I was never going to continue the series (which is a shame because I’d kind of looked forward to that one). That said, I didn’t really drop anything last season because of this in the first episode so it is rare that something seems to be good but delivers it in a way that is unbearably bad from the word go. I mean, Big Order should fit into this category but episode 1 was kind of coherent compared to the rest of the series.
As I said at the beginning, it is much easier to criticise and state what I don’t like than it is to really explain what makes a good first episode. While there isn’t a magic formula or any guarantee there are some elements that will definitely encourage me to keep watching regardless of the potential flaws in a premise.
Wow, that opening was amazing. I was enthralled and it was great to listen to and the visuals just really had an impact. Opening themes seriously can make or break a show and while a lot of first episodes either don’t have an opening or don’t include the visuals (they play the song either at the end or over an introductory scene to avoid spoilers that may be given in their own opening) a great opening song will keep me watching something for at least half-a-season before that 1 – 2 minutes of joy becomes outweighed by the drag of the rest of the show.
Autumn has been particularly light on themes that have grabbed (with the exception of Yuri on Ice and I promise I will stop gushing about this theme eventually). Evangelion has one of the best openings ever and it was the first one I learned to sing in Japanese just by watching the show (or just the opening) over and over again.
Original Sailor Moon had a truly amazing opening if you are pre-teenage girl (which I was when I watched it). Steins;Gate had the kind of opening that visually was mesmerizing and it worked so perfectly with the series. All of these shows hooked you in with their openings (although they also delivered a fairly rewarding viewing experience – though some of you may argue about Evangelion).
I may not know where this is going yet, but I’m intrigued. Give me something to try to predict or guess. Give me something I need to figure out. Give me enough decent plot points that I can see that you are going to go somewhere with it and that somewhere might be great.
The first episode may not be a masterpiece (after all you have to introduce characters and setting and that takes up valuable time and while you can do it in a fluid way, generally we end up with info-dumps galore and if we dropped every anime that did that I’d not have much to watch) but if somewhere in this first episode you give me enough reason to believe there is a final destination to the story, I’ll usually stick around. These are the anime that get until at least episode 3 to impress.
After you’ve got your characters and a setting, have you done anything with them or are they going through the motions?
Magical Girl Raising Project wasn’t a great first episode but I kind of wanted to know what they were going to do different to other dark magical girl stories. In episode 2 the only answer I got to that was make one of them look like a witch and another a cowgirl and there ceased to be any hints of something interesting looming in the shows future.
On the other hand, Flip Flappers delivered an interesting but confused first episode and didn’t explain much in episode 2 but at least kept the promise of future reveals and intrigue. Maybe it will all amount to nothing but it held my interest sufficiently to throw it over the line.
Alderamin on the Sky last season started with a ho-hum kind of opening but there was enough hope of something emerging and fortunately it did. That show just kept building on the world it had kind of half-heartedly introduced during the first episode and the characters definitely grew into their roles. It ended up being one of my favourites for the year.
Another anime that really did this was Psycho Pass. Episode 1 just got me asking so many questions. The episode was actually good in its own right, which just made the whole viewing pleasurable, but just thinking about what had happened and the implications of living in a world where you could be executed on the spot for exceeding a certain level of stress (in a highly stressful situation) and the choice that Akane made during that situation… It was just so much fun and it made me want more.
This last one is obvious but has to be said: Good-quality story telling. That really should be obvious but sometimes you have to wonder. My two top picks in week 1 were Natsume Yuujinchou Go and March Comes in Like a Lion. Neither of these are going to blow you away with mad action sequences but both have a clear focus to their plot and deliver their story in a way that makes it completely immersive.
Natsume’s first episode certainly did use an info-dump as has been formula for the previous 4 seasons as Natsume narrates the circumstances that have led to him living where he is now, but after that the story unfolds organically and at a well thought out pace. In March Comes in Like a Lion we have some fairly impressive visuals and heavy reliance on symbolism to convey information but again the story unfolds at a well thought out pace and the entire episode just felt like everything had been put in exactly the right place and time.
Okay, I’ve definitely gone on long enough so I’m going to turn it over to you. What do you admire in first episodes and what makes you go running for the hills?
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
27 thoughts on “On Admiring First Episodes (A Dangerous Habit for Episodic Reviewers)”
I usually don’t make decisions based on first episodes, especially since I’m more likely to be unimpressed than otherwise after watching just one. There are exceptions though like Code Geass, Psycho Pass, Tokyo Ghoul to name a few. But I tend to wait till 3 or 4 episodes before dropping something. But I did drop God Eater after the first episode because I just could not care about it; the MC was bland, the story was bland, the art was odd, I nearly fell asleep during the fight…
I agree with you about OPs though. I sometimes pick which shows to watch based on OPs (YT channels help with that) and they keep me interested even if the actual story seems lackluster at first.
Plot-wise, I find dark and heavy stories far more appealing that bright, happy ones where there are rainbows and unicorns everywhere.
I agree with you about God Eater. I was really looking forward to watching it and then after one episode I knew I just did not care what was going to happen.
If a show doesn’t have a good hook/s in that first episode, then viewers will be a lot less interested in watching more episodes. Some shows take a few episodes to gather steam though. It is freaking tricky to say the least.
I personally try to look at anime based around whether they are character or plot driven. There is a huge distinction between the two because of how the cast and circumstances interact. It is a little odd, but it can give some idea of how the story is structured.
If an anime is attempting to be character-driven but the MC hasn’t actually changed for the better or worse for the events that are occurring around them, then it fails. In this case I also determine whether or not I actually connect with the characters in any meaningful way. If I don’t give a crap about the cast, then there is less of a point in continuing.
I approach plot-driven stories differently. I look at the circumstance or event that is forcing the cast to react. Is there a real/genuine threat to them? If there is no cost, then what is the point of the anime? Do I feel fatigued by watching all of the action taking place? If there is no reprieve, then viewers will begin to feel exhausted by the story.
That being said, sometimes the point of an anime is to be silly. I have seen a few shows that I deem to be entertaining because of stuff like over-the-top fight scenes (e.g. Kill La Kill) or space penguins (e.g. Gintama). It does go down to personal taste though and I don’t sleight other folks for liking stuff that I don’t because taste tends to be highly subjective in nature.
Definitely agree that tastes are highly subjective and that’s a great thing because it means a much larger variety of things are created than if everyone kind of liked the same thing. Thanks for your comment.
I just need the anime to seem unfamiliar or it has a interesting take on an old trope through its characters or story . Like rezero’s rewind feature isn’t anything new, it was seen in Erased, but its take and use of it was different, the characters were odd and intriguing, and even the first episode kept you on your toes. Especially because it was longer than most anime series premieres.
Yet, then there are the bulk of anime which seems to follow trends and be it the cutesy slice of life animes or the ones where this nobody becomes a hero, who strangely gets this special power or weapon, it is very much like, been there and seen that. Which with 20+ anime released per season, it is hard to not feel you have to dig for a gem amongst the generics.
Agree with a lot of your points here. That assessment of Touken Ranbu Hanmaru was pretty spot on. I mean… I really really love Shinsengumi stories. To find a way to make the Ikeda Inn raid seem blah really says something about the series. I might still watch the rest someday, if only because I’ll do anything to watch stuff about Okita Souji.
On the topic of openings, especially with Yuri on Ice is concerned, I’ll simply say: WE WERE BORN TO MAKE HISTORY
‘We were born to make history’ is probably going to be the line that sticks from Autumn 2016. I keep expecting it to become a meme at many moment.
I’m not too picky about first episodes. I’ll usually wait until about three or four episodes in before I start dropping shows. With that said, the art style and character development are usually what I look for first and enjoy the most if they’re done well. A huge signal for me to stop watching a show is when a character has an annoying habit, like the tsundere girl in Magical Girl Raising Project. I almost lost my mind at how dull her personality was, and how the only thing she said was, “Tch.” I hope she’s the next to go x;
While I haven’t watched the last couple of episodes it seems like they were setting her up to hang around for awhile. That said, they might knock her off for the shock factor and that could be kind of fun.
“Magical Girl Raising Project wasn’t a great first episode but I kind of wanted to know what they were going to do different to other dark magical girl stories.”
I’m really hoping it starts to separate itself from the rest of the “dark magical girl” pack more now that we’re getting closer to the show’s halfway point
The first episode wasn’t great but you are right that I wanted to see if it was going to do something different which is why I checked out a second episode of Magical Girl Raising Project. Some shows do just need a bit more time (that said, I still didn’t end up following that show).
Interesting subject 😀 Honestly….I have never bailed out a series after watching only 1 episode. This is true for both Anime and regular series. Some tv shows and anime shows have a slow start, and as such a pilot or first episode don’t represent the show itself. I really would have missed out on some fantastic series that have become favorites of mine, if I would have called it a day after episode 1. That said, if series don’t turn into something after 3 or 4 episodes (no interesting characters, plot doesn’t move anywhere, too slow..than I call it quits). Great read by the way, and well written 😀
I used to go three or four episodes but because I’m trying so many different shows I really am having to make some cuts early on because time just doesn’t allow you to keep up with that many shows for three weeks.
First episodes as a whole give you that slight taste test to the overall tone/feel of the show. Sometimes it is a good indicator, but other times just taking that gamble on a bad first impression can pay off in great ways. Eureka Seven is a good indicator of that, especially due to how much Renton as a character evolves over the course of the entirety of the anime after our initial introduction to him. Some are great telltale signs of what is to come, but others become more subversive of our initial perception the more you watch. I think a first episode needs to essentially grab me as a viewer by excelling in something or giving me someone to grab onto for the narrative.
Your right in that some first episodes just don’t really do the show justice or really give the same tone as the rest of the show. That said, they definitely need to grab your attention somehow.
I put zero emphasis on opening and closing themes. In fact, I almost always skip them. That bad?
Nope, perfectly normal! You just save time for more anime, right?
Very true for the OPs. It appears that many people tend to skip them (and sometimes it’s the only way) but I think most times it’s best to sacrifice 1,5 minute of your life, tune up to the show and prepare the right mood.
Just as I put my comment! Hahaha.
I’m definitely a skipper of openings if I’m marathoning the show (at least after the fifth or sixth time watching if it isn’t one of my favourite songs), but for individual episodes it is kind of necessary to watch to remember what was going on and the tone of the show going in.
Agree completely. I haven’t done a marathon for a while now and didn’t remember to think about the repetitiveness of OPs in this way. For currently airing shows even most recent stuff gets blurry over a weak or two so some reminder is usually welcome.
I would recommend Drifters, if you like dark stories and history. Is very creative and interesting story plot. Also, I agree on occultic;nine, but the reason why I still watch it is because it’s the creator of steins gate and I think it will be much better later on.
I’d love to watch Drifters given some of the reviews I have read. However, it isn’t yet available where I live, at least not on any of the services I use.
aaah thats too bad!! well you will love Drifters, because its dark and epic, but also really funny! Hope you get to watch it soon!
for me, music’s pretty important, but im starting to think that the shows i end up picking are just random. for the blog, that is…i watch too many shows each season to have consistent reasons for them
I must admit I’m starting to feel that way. This is only my third season reviewing episodes but I kind of feel I held onto some shows just so I would have something to complain about.