2 July 2017

How to make an interesting recap episode?: Let Re:Creators tell you how!

Recap episodes. You hate them, I hate them, even studios and animators hate them. But they're a necessary evil in the production of a TV-series (not just in anime).

Recap episodes can help out balancing the budget for the entire season if too much money has been blown on one specific episode. They can also be a saving grace when production issues cause a certain episode to not make a targeted deadline.

But in the anime industry of today, recap episodes are being programmed along with an anime season. It's why anime of today have only 12 episodes instead of 13. Or 2-cours anime have only 25 episodes instead of 26. There is a planned recap episode somewhere that is not part of the official episode count.

Why is this a standard element of the anime series of today? Mostly because of really tight production schedules in anime. The week with a recap episode is NOT a week where the production staff goes on holidays. No, they have to keep on working hard to make sure the final episode will be finished the moment it needs to air. And that one week "breathing room" is more necessary than you think. I know it's cliché at this point, but just watch Shirobako to see how production changes or unforeseen circumstances can cause a sudden need for a recap episode.

But even when defending the existence of recap episodes, it keeps buzzing in my head: Why can't the studios make these recaps better or more fresh? Just look at what both Avater series did to make their recap episode funny and interesting. But in anime, recap episodes really are just that... recaps! At best you get one character that narrates the entire story. But in most cases, it's just a "clip show".

So color me interested when this image suddenly appeared in Re:Creators Episode 13. Let's just say... I did NOT expect this, and I was pleasantly surprised!

How to make an interesting recap episode?

Before going into detail on why the most recent Re:Creators is a good example of a recap episode done right, let me explain with two examples of interesting and enjoyable recap episodes.

Recap done right: The Ember Island Players

The third season episode "The Ember Island Players" from Avatar the Last Airbender is a masterpiece of doing a recap of the entire show and doing it masterfully!

The plot of the entire show up to that point is being told through the play of a theater group from the Fire Nation (the Ember Island Players), while our heroes are watching the show from the audience and provide their own comments on it. Saying the play is inaccurate is an understatement. Characters have been gender-swapped or are portrayed inaccurately. Characters are being portrayed in a cartoonish over-the-top version that annoys the actual character sitting in the audience and certain plot points are manipulated in such a way that it would please the local people of the Fire Nation. But the entire play (and thus the episode) was done in such a way that the people watching it at home absolutely loved it.

Heck, most people today still say that the "Ember Island" play is a better portrayal of the Avatar series than M.Night Shyamalan's movie incarnation. People love this so much, entire cosplay groups have been spotted, dressed as the Ember Island players (no joke).

Recap done right: Remembrances

While the Recap episode in Legend of Korra (Remembrances) may have been "less awesome" than the Ember Island players, it was still really funny to watch. The entire episode was split into several sections where characters re-tell the past story events, while "chibi" versions of the people in the neighborhood of the narrator voice their live comments. And that is really funny, especially when Mako's family openly voices their disapproval of his actions of cheating on his girlfriend.

And I don't even need to mention the over-the-top storytelling Varrick does when he's recapping the events. The super-villain team-up to take down Varrick's superhero Bolin is hilarious without end.

Recap done right: Re:Creators Episode 13

So yesterday I watched episode 13 of Re:Creators and quickly realized that it would be a recap episode. As usual when seeing this, I think about the Avatar episodes and can only sigh about the lack of creativity in the anime industry when it comes to handling recaps. Then I slide my timer through the episode and drop it at specific points to see if anything new or fresh is added. But low and behold, I was honestly surprised when I saw the following:

Wait, that's not Meteora... right?

I quickly rewound the episode and watched carefully. As it turned out, the character named Meteora was recapping the prior 12 episodes and gave the story her own "personal touch", especially when it came to her self image (some issues there, girl?).

And while she "kills" the Military Uniform Girl from the first episode, she quickly comes to come to the conclusion that such a series ending would be forced and people would not like it. And thus she quickly "rewinds" her story and tells it the way we actually know it.

For the rest, new scenes are kept to a minimum, but Meteora keeps narrating and adds her own personal "touches" to the characters of the story and even starts singing (very much off-key) to one of the songs.

Yes, that is the word "Lolicon" you've just heard.

Later on, she gives her own opinion on the design of the Military girl, as if she was one of the animators herself. Trust me, it's more funny than this screenshot can show. It's hilarious.

But to finish it all off, she gives the reason why recap episodes exist in the anime industry. It's really well-put together and worth watching the entire episode for.

And I could voice my opinion on it. But I thought it would be the most fitting, if I transcribed the entire dialogue for you to see... and to share. Because messages like this should NOT get lost in the much dreaded recap episodes.

Meteora's words on recap episodes

Well then, I hope you enjoyed this intermission.
However, since this episode was a replay of highlights from the show, I'm sure that some of you may be left feeling a little concerned about the future of this show.
But please do not panic.
"The Quality is getting worse", or "the industry is in a crisis".
People say things like that these days to sensationalize things. But that is not our intention.
This intermission was planned as part of the broadcast, right from the beginning, so please do not worry.
Since this story has a large number of characters and a high density of elements in each frame, the expectations of the client are also high.
Without an interval like this, the director and producer would end up as shriveled-up mummies before the second half even begins.
Starting next episode, the show will resume in the normal format.
Perhaps I may have said some inappropriate things or foreboding words today.
But please don't tell anyone.
Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the rest of the show.
Brought to you by the magician of the Kunst Wunderkammer,
Meteora Osterreich.

I have no further words to add.
Until next time, V out.

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