Selling Character in the First Episode

A first impressions post! I wanted to tie this with what I’ve been learning in writing flash fiction, so that I don’t forget it! It’s also great to know that what you’ve learned in creating could be applied in consuming. That is, the better you can cook, the more you can discern how a dish was made when eating it.

The first episode of an anime is the most important–it has to grab your attention and whet your appetite for more. If it doesn’t, then how would the audience keep on watching? For the longest time, I wondered why people didn’t watch the shows that I liked, a lot of which were 50-episode affairs and started slow, building up as they went on. Why? Simple–most people got turned away by the first episode, which may be good, but not rivetingly good. Or maybe they really started badly. A lot of long shows are like that.

For me, and my preference for character-driven shows, a first episode only has one requirement: to present a likeable character whom we can root for. And we can root for a character if they’re relatable, that is, if they have emotions and problems that hit close to home. There must also be a character arc: the character must want something, but can’t get it because ~reasons~. The show must make us care about how they strive for it, and if they get it or not, what did they learn in the end? Then on to the next arc. That’s how you keep a character-driven show going.

Here, I apply this lens to several new anime I’ve watched, all of which I have no prior knowledge of:

Glasslip

There are six main characters in this show. Crowded! It’s challenging for a large cast because each of these characters will have to compete for limited screentime. It sucks if you have a character you like and they don’t appear much (or worse, overshadowed by someone you hate).  The production is very polished, but I haven’t found anyone I could really like here. The first episode was interested in a lot of teenage navel-gazing and it was honestly a bit grating to sit through. I’ll have to lower my expectations of this show a notch. Also, “David” is a creep.

Argevollen

I wrote about Argevollen already, but I like the main character AND the PMC woman. Tokimune, the main character, wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t have the power to do it, though it’s his very hotheadedness that gives him a shot at real power. I also like the PMC woman exactly because she’s unlikeable and slimy. However, she has pretty grounded motivations, and it would be interesting how they go from here. Also, robots.

Bakumatsu Rock

Fun fact: Did you know that I’ve seen all of Macross 7 and its spinoffs? That should give you an idea how much I liked this one. Rocker Ryouma Sakamoto is just as audacious as Basara and while neither are really likeable people, their sheer burning passion just makes you want to root for them. The anachronistic, goofy setting also helps sell the conceit.

Locodol

Nanako wants to buy a swimsuit, but has no money. Uncle offers her part-time work. Nanako bites, only to find out that it’s a goddamn idol gig, which she absolutely has no experience on. But she does it anyway. “If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right!” she says. This is perhaps the most comprehensive first episode of the season. It’s not particularly good or anything, but it pitches itself completely in the span of twenty-odd minutes. Everything you needed to know about the show, you can see right here. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to follow it or not. (I vote yes.)

Barakamon

Earnest and heartwarming. Typical fish-out-of-water setup, but Handa goes through a range of emotions in one measly episode. I learned about his backstory, his motivations (and frustrations), and his ability to change. A lot of things happen and it’s a wonderful new beginning for our main character. Charming brat, too. Sleeper hit.

Rail Wars

I came for Manami Numakura, who voices the gung-ho girl (she’s okay). Production is solid, story is standard, it’s the train trivia that’s the biggest hook for me so far. But it has potential. I hope they explore the main character’s love for trains, since I do want to love me some trains. The fanservice is unfortunate, though.

Aldnoah Zero

This is a plot-driven show. But I don’t feel right watching a show just because I want to know what happens next–I need someone to latch on to, someone to root for. The first episode did none of that. Oh, it tried–not-Dianna Sorrel and the Terran guy were pretty nice, but the show wastes no time kicking both in the face. The screen time is used on exposition instead. The high school student contingent is forgettable and the main character is this smug, disinterested prick. It’s the disgraced officer who’s the most interesting for me so far, and it’s not even much. This is one of the best-produced shows this season but it really managed to rub me the wrong way with all the spectacle and crass destruction.

Hanayamata

Oh God. Certainly the prettiest show out of what I’ve watched. Plot is standard, but it’s fairly comprehensive in introducing Naru, who also has this vapid, “I want to change myself” desire but has no clue on how to do it and isn’t really willing to. Her character arc (the first of many to come) is resolved very satisfyingly. Hana manages to be characterized well, making her ineligible for Manic Pixie Dream Girl status, delivering an earnest speech near the end. I just love honest coming-of-age stories.

* * *

I don’t want to just limit discussion to this season’s shows, but did you ever watch a first episode that really made you root for a character?

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9 Responses to Selling Character in the First Episode

  1. Digibro says:

    Check out Gekkan Shuojo Nozaki-kun. Best show I’ve seen this season precisely because the titular Nozaki-kun manages to be so incredibly likable in the span of 22 minutes (and the earnest female lead is lovably adorable, too).

  2. r042 says:

    Interesting you pointed to Turn-A as a comparison for Aldnoah – I’m getting a huge Crest of the Stars vibe (if they blew up Lafiel and Jinto in episode 1 and had the rest of the series be the Abh wrecking earth).

    I’m dubious about it, it’s pretty and the designs are nice but I think I had more fun watching Argevollen and its oddball cast of second string 80s/90s real robot show characters.

    My favourite is the Nina Purpleton expy

    • schneider says:

      1. That’s interesting. I never thought of that, maybe because I could never imagine this show and Crest in the same room.
      2. Yes.
      3. YES. She’s the best/worst.

  3. kudosforce says:

    On the subject of older shows, it was relieving to see how Yuuta got to keep his friendship with Deckerd, in J-Decker. The kid has a lot of guts to begin with too, standing up to the villain-du-jour despite the possibility of being reduced to a smear. It helps that the first episode had rather nice animation.

  4. Ray Trace says:

    so as a Macross 7 fan I should like this Bakamatu Rock? – is it mecha?

  5. Ray Trace says:

    Oh I c – probably not my cup o tea then😀

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