Is It Magic, Art, Or Science? Why do some first episodes in anime appeal and others leave you reaching for the escape key?

First Episodes in Anime

I recently read Irina’s post on ‘That Brand New Anime Feeling‘ where she discussed what she is looking for in the first 10 minutes of an anime. It made me wonder what it was about first episodes in anime that can appeal or cause me to walk away.

Now I have previously listed the top 5 signs you’ve been completely charmed by an anime’s first episode though that definitely discussed behaviours of people who had fallen in love with a show after the first twenty minute episode was finished. I’ve also quite facetiously listed my top 5 draws when deciding what to watch but I’ll note that given I through the presence of dragons on the list and dragons in anime usually don’t go well I probably need to have a more serious look at this topic.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 1
First episodes in anime

Because, as a seasonal viewer and an anime reviewer, I’m watching a lot of first episodes. Way more than ever appear on my blog. And twenty minutes (twenty-four minutes) isn’t really a long period of time and yet for a lot of us, the first episodes in an anime are the only episodes we’ll ever watch because there’s just too many shows premiering each season to watch them all and there’s always anime to catch up on from previous seasons.

Why do some first episodes in anime appeal and others leave you reaching for the escape key?

For each viewer, the decision of whether something appeals or not is going to be different. There are genre preferences, comparisons to other recently watched shows, expectations going in, hype, and so many other factors that ultimately play a role in that final decision a viewer will make. That’s before you even actually look at the quality of the first episode in question.

First episodes in anime

First episodes in anime are doing a lot of heavy lifting for the brief length of time they run. They are establishing their cast, setting, plot, setting up the tone, usually trying to cram in some of the standard tropes, and depending on the genre they are trying to end the episode at a point that makes the viewer want to keep watching so usually some kind of dramatic reveal or conflict (though slice of life and episodic comedy anime are probably an exception here).

Certainly there is a basic science behind writing the orientation of a story. And anime has some well established conventions and tropes that more or less help them take short cuts in establishing their genre. Also, other than the really big titles, most anime aren’t going for universal appeal but are rather trying to appeal to a specific niche audience and they know what that audience is looking for in a story.

But whether the first episode has all the requisite ingredients to be interesting doesn’t actually mean it will be. Nor does it mean that the anime is going to necessarily be good. That’s where the art comes in.

Tesla Note Episode 1

Weaving all the elements together into something that actually works and causes the audience to get sucked into the story is definitely a unique skill and two stories could have almost identical elements in their openings but elicit very different responses.

Then there’s that little something extra. The magic of having everything come together with the right story with the right visuals and the right music and all just at the right moment for the viewer. Anyone who has ever dropped an anime and then returned to it months or even years later and realised it was amazing will know that sometimes timing is everything. There’s nothing the people making the anime can do about this factor. It is entirely dependent on the viewer and their mood and mental state at the time of watching.

Or maybe they just watched too many slice of life anime the previous season and weren’t up for another. Or maybe they recently went through a bad relationship so aren’t ready for that romance.

Banished From The Hero's Party Episode 1

Magic happens when all the elements come together for the viewer and then a first episode can really sweep them away.

Of course, as I say that, I’m looking at the current line up for the Fall 2021 anime season and I’m not really feeling swept off my feet, yet (there’s still plenty of first episodes to watch).


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Example First Episodes in Anime

Jobless Reincarnation wasn’t really a first episode as we jumped straight into the second cour of the story without preamble, so it doesn’t really count.

Mieruko-Chan intrigued me. I won’t deny I was kind of curious about where it would go and I kind of liked the feeling that it was similar to Natsume in that the main character was trying to not stand out and was pretending she couldn’t see the ghosts. I suspect though that unlike Natsume, this isn’t going to be a story about a girl learning to accept herself and the supernatural. Given the comedy tag, I think this is going to be an ongoing gag and may wear out its welcome.

Still, as a first episode, it had some good moments. Then it also had some weird voyeuristic camera angles that felt totally out of place and for an anime tagged as comedy the laughs were a little absent.

Mieruko-Chan Episode 1

But if we look at this as a first episode for me it built a connection to a character I’d previously loved in that the protagonist here had a similar trait. It also used the horror/supernatural genre elements at its disposal to really build some solid scenes. The bus-stop sequence in particular was awesome. The memorable character reaction (both during and after the encounter) really sold it.

So while I was left with reservations, Mieruko-Chan ended up firmly on my watch list for the season.

Compare that with something like Banished From The Hero’s Party where I don’t actually have any stand-out moment to discuss and really this one was just kind of comfort food. It didn’t do anything wrong but it also wasn’t really pulling out all the stops to appeal. It is kind of comfortable in being this mid-tier fantasy slice-of-life. They did throw in some fan-service but otherwise this first episode was unpretentious and decently executed without being exceptional.

Banished Ep1 3

There’s so many anime like this each season that just are genre pieces and are happy doing their thing (or at least seem like if from their first episode). For fantasy fans or those who wanted a slice of life set in a fantasy world, Banished From The Hero’s Party is competent and doesn’t seem to be trying to be anything more or less. That also means a lot of viewers will move on because time is limited and this one doesn’t seem set to make any waves.

First episodes in anime can also be incredibly divisive. Platinum End seems to be one such title with some reviewers identifying it as juvenile, edge-lord material (summation of multiple reviewer comments and not attributed to any single review) and others have found it an intriguing set up for what is going to be a shounen story (so it is aimed at teenage boys).

Platinum End Episode 1

I fell in the camp of those who quite enjoyed the set-up for what it is and am curious about where the plot will go. I’m not under any illusions about this story actually being masterful, but the first episode in this anime established the tone, main character, and premise and whether viewers like what it is offering or not will end up being an entirely subjective choice.

I wonder though how viewers would feel about Platinum End if they’d never seen Death Note (by the same creator) or if they’d never watched Future Diary (similar premise). Would they be as critical of it or would the same first episode have had a wider appeal?

Hard to say and you can’t second guess. Platinum End is coming out in 2021 and long time viewers of anime have seen many similar stories and set-ups. Whether Platinum End will break free of the comparisons and establish its own identity is something that the first episode alone can’t tell us.

What are you looking for from the first episode of an anime?

If we go back to the initial question of whether it is magic, art or science, the answer really does end up being some combination of the three. First episodes in anime can set the internet on fire for good and bad reasons, others will fly under the radar and almost not make a ripple on the overall consciousness of the aniweb and some will find their core group of loyal viewers and that’s all they were ever aiming for.

Idaten Ep1 8

From my perspective, the one quality that a first episode must bring to the table is that it must make me curious. Whether it is curious about the characters or curious about where the plot will go, I need something that makes me want to ask questions and makes me want to watch more. Of course, that does mean I sometimes watch multiple episodes of obvious train-wrecks like Tesla Note because I am curious about where the plot is going despite the obvious issues with it as an anime. But that’s okay.

As they say, “Time You Enjoyed Wasting Is Not Wasted Time”. While I’m still enjoying watching an anime, even if it ends up not being good, I don’t feel too bad about it. Of course, in the rare cases where I watch an anime I’ve clearly ceased enjoying I often wonder why I wasted those precious minutes.

Be sure to leave me a comment letting me know what it is you are looking for from the first episode in an anime.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

Top 5 Signs You’ve Been Completely Charmed By An Anime’s First Episode

Top 5 Charm

As an anime reviewer, I like to believe I’m a good judge of shows. I know when I am enjoying something but it isn’t particularly good quality. I also have enough sense to know when an anime is actually a good anime but just doesn’t click for me. However, despite season after season of starting new anime and being both thrilled and disappointed, I have never quite managed to convince myself not to jump to conclusions in episode one.

You would think after KADO: The Right Answer I would be wary of anything that caught my enthusiasm immediately in episode 1. And yet, where would the fun be as an anime viewer if I didn’t allow myself to get swept up in emotions. When I watch a good first episode I want it to be a sign of a brilliant show to follow. I want to tell people about this amazing gem I found (like most of them hadn’t already found it on their streaming services anyway).

What are the signs you’ve been charmed by an anime’s first episode?

But, there’s enthusiasm for a potentially good show and then there’s being blinded by a glitzy first episode. Here are 5 sure signs that you’ve just been charmed and perhaps aren’t seeing the cracks in the story that are probably already present.

Please note: There will be spoilers below.

Number 5: You Find Yourself Making Big Predictions

Whether you pull out the AOTS label (at a time when most shows haven’t aired a first episode and barely an episode has appeared) or whether you start declaring that you’ve found this season’s Attack on Titan/Steins;Gate/My Hero Academia/Bloom Into You/whatever you hold up as the pinnacle of your preferred genre, when you are charmed by a first episode reviewers tend to go big. For bloggers this comes with the problem of those big predictions regularly coming back to bite us later in the season.

My example, episode 1 of The Promised Neverland Season 2 last season made me think that the second season was going to give me what I’d wanted from another season of Neverland.

Neverland S2E1

Alas, by midway through this disaster of a sequel it was quite obvious that this anime was not in fact going to deliver either the narrative or character developments I was hoping for. Nor had it captured the charm or atmosphere that made the first season such a sensation. But that first episode…

Man, it definitely blinded me to the warning signs that should have been clear even then that season 2 was not going to really deliver. The absence of the clever and interesting direction alone should have been enough of a tip, but I was charmed. It wasn’t until the charm wore off and I went back that I can see that right from episode 1, The Promised Neverland Season 2 could not be what I wanted.

Number 4: Favourable and Unfavourable Comparisons

If the first episode in question comes out early in the season line up and it charms you, every anime premiere after that gets compared to it. “Oh it’s not as good as…” “It’s no [insert name here]”. If it comes out later in the line up after other shows have mostly aired it will be compared favourably: “This blows [insert name here] out of the water” “This shows us what [name] could have been.”

There’s always a danger in comparing anime, even ones within the same genre. Last season we had a number of isekai titles but two I saw compared a lot were Jobless Reincarnation and Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies moved to a starter town? What I found interesting about these two shows is that depending on the reviewer’s preferences either one could be called the superior of the isekai titles for the season.

But both seemed to be going for quite different tones despite their similar subject matter and without the comparisons, both have a lot to offer viewers in their own way (and both equally have a few issues and potential problems depending on your preferences). But for someone charmed by Jobless, they might be blinded to the positive points in Last Dungeon, and vice versa.

Comparisons aren’t always bad, but when you are charmed by a show and still in the honeymoon phase where you are a little bit blind to the flaws it might have, it tends to make you more critical of similar titles or anything someone suggests might be better. So if you find yourself comparing a first episode to other titles, it might be a good time to take stock and ask yourself if you are currently charmed.

Number 3: You are stalking additional content.

You’ve finished the episode and now you are hitting up your search engine. You want to know everything. What’s the source, where’s it available, who is working on this project, what’s already been written about it…? Your twitter feed is full of comments about and images from the first episode. You’ve found the official series twitter channel and are following and retweeting like crazy. Any bit of news about the anime is yours and you are passing it on through all your social media channels.

While you might lose steam by episode 3 (or you might still be going strong at the final episode because the charm never wore off) you are hooked not just by the episode but by anything and everything related to the anime and you want to make sure you don’t miss out. You’ll probably make some new friends in the process but others who are less charmed by the show might move on.

My example: Yuri on Ice.

yuri on ice 5j
From episode 1 I was hooked on this anime and even now I follow so many people on social media who post fan-made content about this anime. The charm never once wore off and I’ll admit I’m not all that objective in my views on Yuri on Ice. It’s brilliant. Deal with it.

Number 2: A Week Has Never Felt So Long

Is it really seven days until the next episode comes out? I mean, that’s actually an eternity if you really just got charmed by a first episode. Worse when it was an early premiere episode. Now you have to wait literally forever for more content. Refreshing your browser does not make the episode appear any faster, nor does searching google for release information. When you are charmed, a week is a very long time indeed.


Number 1: Non-Specific, Overly Enthusiastic Praise

This happens a lot when a reviewer gets really excited by something. Instead of addressing aspects of the anime that are good or identifying what is working, there’s just a lot of buzz words and enthusiasm. I’m guilty of this as well when talking about an episode with someone in real life that I’ve really loved. Only my version uses a lot of hand waving and bouncing on my heels. The most recent example I’ve got of a case where this happened was Mars Red.

Mars Red Episode 1 12
I was trying to describe to someone what I had just watched and the conversation ended up going along the lines of: “The animation is just so…[insert wild hand gestures] you know…[more gestures] and it just like… Everything just kind of flows and it’s [a few heel bounces and more gestures]…” At this point the person I’m talking to has taken a step back to avoid losing an eye from hand flailing. “And the main character was soooo…. he’s like… you know… It’s just so good.”

And so on. I did eventually actually get a description out but that little insight into my communication skills probably tells you why I prefer writing my reviews in the first place. When I am excited and trying to speak words fail me and everything kind of jumbles together.

And when I watch an episode that gets me as interested in watching a show as the first episode of Mars Red did I know I am in the blinded by charm phase. Maybe the charm will last the whole series and it will deserve every positive praise I’ll give this first episode. Maybe it will go a different way and I’ll be left with a bad taste in my mouth. What I do know is this was an anime I wanted to tell people about and an episode that I felt was worth trying.

Top 5 Charm
So that’s my list of the Top 5 Signs You’ve Been Completely Charmed By An Anime’s First Episode. Did I miss any? What would you have included? And have you ever experienced being charmed by a first episode of an anime that ultimately let you down? Be sure to leave me a comment below.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

On Admiring First Episodes (A Dangerous Habit for Episodic Reviewers)


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.
Karandi James