Ao no Exorcist and Three-Episode Taste Tests
…or whatever they’re called.
Here’s a rather long post with no pictures, but I hope my ideas (not my writing) is at least interesting enough.
Ao no Exorcist’s first three episodes were brilliant in marketing design, taking advantage of three things that anime watchers generally tend to do:
– Download episodes (if their connection is fast), or stream them (if their connection is slow);
– Care only about the main character (if that’s the reason they’re watching), or not care about shallow characters (if they’re human);
– Follow shows by-season (if they are smart), or watch them all at once (if they are dumb/behind).
What do each of these mean? The first means that the watcher (from now referred to as ‘us’ or ‘we’) has spent a considerable amount of time loading the episode – whether downloading it or waiting for the stream to… stream. This means that we will not likely drop a show in the middle of an episode, especially the first episode – we tend to drop it only at the end (when we /know/ that a show will be bad).
The second means that shows that introduce many characters at once will not be well appreciated. For example, Hourou Musuko – that cramfest of random crap childs that was introduced in episode one was absolutely stupid, because I didn’t care about any of them. They were people with names, that’s all. In fact, this persisted throughout, and left me with a bad impression of the show, overall – at the end, they were still just people with names. However, say, something like One Piece – every character is slowly introduced, from the ground up. Even at the beginning, the only person we knew was Luffy and some other background characters. You just don’t introduce all the mains at once.
The third means that we will tend to forget stories with weak plots. Waiting a whole week for a less than half an hour clip really tests the limits of our memory, and watching them all at once is too much information at, well, once. Something that failed because of this is, say, Highschool of the Dead, whose plot I completely forgot when I decided to finally watch the last episode. I’d daresay if I weren’t blogging my anime, I’d forget the plot of at least half the shows in a season.
What about the other half? Those are (generally) shows with episode-by-episode plots; Level E, Nichijou, and the like. These shows manage to build up the ‘main’ story through a series of ‘side’ stories – you don’t even need to remember what the side stories are about, because the only point they serve is to hammer in characterization. By introducing a character one at a time, shows like these give us a solid background on what the characters are; not just their names. You know an anime is successful in this when you can imagine what [insert name here] would do in [insert situation here], but forget their names – an anime isn’t so successful when you remember their names, but you have no idea who they /are/.
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Now let’s see what Ao no Exorcist did in its first three episodes, keeping in mind the points above.
The first episode was, frankly, boring – a slice of life ‘get a job, son’ episode about a slice from the life of a son who’s getting a job. The producers, knowing that we wouldn’t just quit halfway because it was boring, deliberately made the first half of the episode show us Rin’s personality and attitude towards Fujimoto, Yukio, and life. Instead of starting on a sudden situation, and ending on a ‘back to normal’ note, this starts at a ‘this is normal life’, and progresses into a ‘situation situation cliffhanger!!!!’ type scenario.
We can now, I don’t know, empathize with what Rin is feeling, and connect his experiences to ours – he’s not just some fantasy character anymore, he’s a real person with a life.
Suddenly, we hit the whole demon schtick, and the episode ends with a wait, what?! This definitely attracts us into watching the second episode, if only to see the whole thing resolve; whereas if a situation is concluded at the end of episode one, we can shrug it off and say ‘well, that wasn’t so good, let’s drop this show’.
Episode two had fighting.
Admit it; when you’re watching a shounen show, you want fighting. Without fighting, a shounen show isn’t a shounen show. Even Bakuman has drunken brawling.
If the real fighting started in the first episode, there wouldn’t be enough time to develop the main character. But, now that the fighting starts here, not only has the main character already been developed, but backstory can be added, too.
The death of Fujimoto makes us now sympathize with Rin, and the fighting mechanics of the Exorcists makes us wonder ‘what the hell are they doing, splashing water on innocent mushrooms?!’
Of course, this still isn’t enough to attract us; we need to know what the hell is going to happen. The world’s modernized, Rin can’t go off and sail the seven seas or whatever.
And thus, the appearance of Mephisto reveals Rin’s true path – to become an Exorcist.
This is the true start of the story – we finally understand that Ao no Exorcist is just a boring ‘school-type shounen’ manga. This could have been episode one – but of course, that would be too boring.
By developing Rin’s character over the first episodes, by allowing us to empathize and then sympathize with him, by introducing history and having Rin set a plain goal for himself, and by using not one, but three episodes to introduce the story, Ao no Exorcist is now definitely on the right track to becoming a memorable story.