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Anime: The Art of First Episodes

What do first episodes achieve?

In its most simplistic form, it hooks the viewer into the show. After all, this is its mission; it has to make people want to view the next episode, and the next. For the more people you have viewing your show, the more popular it is, and ultimately, the more money it’s going to make as a direct result.


girls' last tour main characters apocalypse first episode

Girls’ Last Tour… one of Fall’s most promising!


It it no use to have a show that is brilliant in all areas except for the first episode,  because many – including myself – will not give it a second chance. And, why should they? It is the same with any form of media, not singularly anime. If the first chapter of a book is drawn out, and uninteresting, why read the rest? If the first ten minutes of a film is a hash of expository nightmares, why bother continue viewing in the hope of something better?

In modern society, time is hugely valuable. 

Why waste time with something mediocre, when there is a land of brilliance waiting just there, right beside you? It doesn’t make sense to fill time with things that are valueless, with things that bloat the mind; stagnant and repetitive. For example: Why watch the remake of Conan the Barbarian, (2011) when you can simply watch the original (1982) and bathe in the gloriousness that is early-Arnie. (Not sarcasm!) P.S. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now please…


What Makes for a Good First Episode?

One of the very first things we see is the opening (some shows only introduce the OP in their second episodes) Now, unlike live action TV, the openings of anime are much more significant; important to the overall feel and tone of the show in the most general sense. Helping us with the notion of the things we’re getting ourselves into.

One of the best openings from this season (Fall 2017) is unquestionably Juni Taisen’s:

Juni Taisen OP – Rapture by Panorama Panama Town

Posted by Juni Taisen on Wednesday, 11 October 2017


First episodes will generally have a preludeas to offer some expository information without wading too far into the deep end. After all, it helps to have a little brief knowledge of characters and the surrounding world, before the ‘real’ narrative starts in earnest.

In most cases, these’s preludes come in the form of flashbacks, or devices of similar nature. I have, at times, loathed the use of flashbacks to inform the audience. It can be lazy. Instead of subtly showing us how a character has been changed by their past, we’re simply given that past to come to our – often dull – conclusions. It comes to the literary technique: Show, don’t tell. In this sense, how has any particular scenario affected the character? It’s preferable to see the result through their actions in the current storyline, rather than get fed the scenario itself with a spoon. It adds mystery and tension. It makes us ask questions: Why are things like that? Why is he/she like that?


recovery of an mmo junkie first episode

Recovery of an MMO Junkie (Fall 2017)


Because, characters are as important in anime as they are in any other visual, or literary medium. They personally connect us to the narrative. They are our definite link to the world, and to the experiences that can happen within it. This bond has to form in the first episode, we have to express emotion for the characters – whatever that emotion might be, be it sad, happy, or completely contemptuous. After all, it’s as hard to create a truly detestable character, as it is a truly loveable one.

Other points that are important in first episodes:

  • Set-up of the plot and general narrative.
  • Well-paced progression.
  • Immersive worldbuilding.
  • Consistency in the animation and art (goes without saying…)

Once again, I’m coming back to Welcome to the N.H.K. It’s established itself as a staple around here… N.H.K’s first episode is just wonderful, in the ideas it manages to offer in those few minutes, and in the true sense of identity it brilliantly conveys. It’s mad, and that’s what makes it great. It reveals certain things to us; need-to-know things in ways that are relatively shocking – because the show itself is shocking. But it also selectively withholds certain aspects of this information – the things that put us on edge. Just through the visuals and script alone, we – to a degree – know what is happening. ‘Flashbacks’ are not necessary here.


welcome to the NHK neet

Welcome to the N.H.K… Welcome to the NEET life…


This is just one great first episode amongst so many others. Still, it serves as an example, both structurally, and morally, that there is no excuse with the lack of effort and value in first episodes.


Finishing Those 24 Minutes…

As with beginnings, endings of first episodes are just as vital.

If the job of the first episode is to get us returning and watching the second, the ending has to reflect this drive. The thing is, if we are left wanting nothing more, why would we return? Things need to be left in question – a cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers provide us with the desire to know. And, the desire to know is one of the strongest emotions the human psyche can express; one of the most fundamental. Because if a first episode leaves us with this feeling, it has without a doubt succeeded in the best way it can.

We will feel need to know more of the characters. For if they have been presented well enough, we will be emotionally connected to them, we will recognise them as real people. If the world they exist in is wonderous, and contains many questions, many unresolved struggles – we’ll want more! Of course, this is important in all episodes. But ever the more when it comes to something wholly new and untested; for the audience is yet to invest anything



What’s your perspective on first episodes? Do any particular stand out to you?

Thanks for reading, as always!

-Chris (Follow me on Twitter! And, consider supporting my work on Patreon!)

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17 thoughts on “Anime: The Art of First Episodes

  1. vampireseal says:

    Right now Juuni Taisen is the stand-out for me so far for Fall. It’s such a great throw-back to early 90s violent exploitation anime. I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had any great pure action shows that are just FUN and well-made.

  2. inksquid43 says:

    A few memorable examples come to mind.
    Made in Abyss. It set up the wonder of the world and the mystery of the abyss, and Riko playing off all her friends was delightful. Unfortunately Riko+Reg did not work for me as the episodes went on.
    Fate/Zero vs Fate/Stay Night UBW (2015). As a franchise that hinges on rules and exposition, these two shows approached their exposition differently: F/Z in a double-length premiere and F/SN saving it for the 2nd and 3rd eps. I think F/SN made a stronger hook that way.
    This fall season, I think only Girls’ Last Tour impressed me with its premiere: its melancholic post-apocalyptic tone and the strong banter of its leads.

    • Chris says:

      I LOVE Made in Abyss, the show was solid from the first episode. Though, I can certainly see how it might not appeal to everyone.
      I’ve actually not seen any of the Fate shows, but I keep getting recomended them, so I guess it’s about time! 😀
      And, I’m impressed with Girls’ Last Tour also, quite enamoured with the characters, and the subtle malevolence of the world.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, absolutely. But people say to me, “Oh, but you ONLY watched the first episode, give it a chance!” The first episode is the chance; it’s the most important thing there is. 😀

  3. ospreyshire says:

    That was a great article. There are episodes that hook you from the first one although I admit that there are some anime series that start slow or boring, but they end up being really good later on like how I felt with Patapata Hikousen no Bouken for example. It depends on the pacing, but I do agree there has to be some sort of hook.

    In other news, I nominated you for the unique blogger award:

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, they can be slow early on. But as someone who loves slice-of-life, I think promise needs to be shown, it whatever area of the narrative. Just Because! is a good example from this season. Nothing exactly happened in the first ep, but it offered us – as the viewer – something to latch onto. 😀
      Thanks for the nomination too, I appreciate it! 🙂 <3

      • ospreyshire says:

        Definitely. I agree with the promise and a good premise needing to be shown. Some slice-of-life stuff (animated and live action) has been growing on me a bit like a couple movies that I have Reviews ready for that aren’t posted yet. God to know about Just Because.

        No problem. You earned that nomination.

  4. regan222 says:

    Isekai Shokudou is a great example of this. A simple “slice of life” that, for no discernable reason, pulls you in from episode 1 and keeps you. There is no particular action or conflict buy the story is just soothing and enchanting. Can’t wait for season 2.

    • Chris says:

      I agree with that. Though, halfway through the show, it kind of plateaued for me. But that’s the draw with slice-of-life; it’s mysterious – and that mysteriousness is what pulls me in. 😀

      • regan222 says:

        Hopefully during season 2 they will work in a bit more of an extended plot instead of just doing daily vignettes. But it is still a relaxing and enjoyable watch.

  5. tivamoo says:

    I watched 2 new series for 2017 – princess principal and love & lie. Both of them have great first episode. Esp the first one of Prpr, really caught my heart! 🙂

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