This is something that most likely has happened to everyone at least once and each time you let out a big sigh. Why do we even have these recaps? Can they be any good? In fact, are they even needed these days?
Why do anime have recap episodes?
A very common explanation to why we do have recaps is that anime rarely have reruns in Japan and therefore recap episodes are a used to introduce the series to newer viewers. This is not too farfetched and is most likely true. But is this really the whole truth? I believe there might be another reason for them to exist.
Why do I think so? To start, many recap episodes are horribly made, only putting together a whole load of scenes without any proper sense of order and focus, often missing out those small, yet important, details. A recent example of this would be the remake of Hunter x Hunter, in which the two recaps have not been any more informative than a random article on the Internet. There were a lot of scenes and just all over the place, jumping from one event to another without putting any emphasis on how important they were. It was basically: “first this happened, then that, then…”
To put it bluntly, it is a prime example of how dull recap episodes usually are. They are not fun for the regular viewer and mean nothing to newer ones. It is a wasted episode. By reading on Wikipedia you gain fair more understanding of the story thus far (although you miss out on the sound and the visuals).
So why are we still given recaps? Reason one: public holidays. I did not notice this before I encountered the recaps of, once again, Hunter x Hunter. It turned out that both episodes aired during Japanese holidays. These are times when not as many people as usual watch the series, generating lower broadcast ratings, and therefore a simply summary will do. This is true for series such as Hunter x Hunter, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Eureka Seven.
The second reason would be time. By doing a quick summary, the anime studio will have more time to focus on the real episodes. There will be more time to perhaps animate a particular scene better or go through certain story elements a few more times.
As you can see, there are more reasons than merely “recapping the story”. But this still does not give the anime studios a lame excuse to do half-baked episodes. When recap episodes are executed well, they can be just as good as a regular one.
Recap episodes that surprisingly do not suck!
See, you only have to mention the word “recap” and it will result in a skipped episode from my side. If you want me to watch it, then, please, do your best. There has to be some actual thought behind it. Let us go through a few recap episodes that really worked for me.
The prime example of a masterful recap is actually the first episode of Baccano! That is right; the very start of the series summarizes nearly all the important events to come. This is a genius move. We are introduced to two characters who discuss the story itself, speculating about it and drawing conclusions. Not only does this serve as a hook, it also helps the viewer piece things together further on in the series. Since the story is told from multiple points of view, having the order of the events spelled out in the first episode helps a lot. And when you have finished all episodes, you re-watch the episode and love it till death.
Another notable example of how to do a recap episode is Eureka Seven. After the first story arc, we listen to three different characters reflect on what has happened. We have Renton, our protagonist, who tells us about his life onboard the ship Gekko-Go and his relationship with the mysterious girl called Eureka.
Next we have Stoner, a member of Gekkostate, philosophize about the being called “Coralian”. It is deep, slightly pretentious, but tells us how a normal human would view this being.
And finally, we have Dominic, a man in the military and therefore the “enemy”, logically analyze data and facts. Not only does this serve as a way to remind the viewer of what has happened, but it actually delves deeper into the story and makes everything much clearer in case the viewer did not understand the first time. In addition to this, it also develops the character which is a big plus.
But not all good recap episodes require reflections and discussions! Clannad After Story and Death Note both follow the aforementioned “first this, then that”, something that did not work in Hunter x Hunter. What makes a difference is that in these two series, the recaps have a purpose.
In Death Note, it functions as a tribute to a certain character after a major twist. Besides obviously summarizing the story, it also shows us how awesome that character is. Furthermore, the story actually continues in this episode, giving another reason to watch it.
Clannad After Story tackles this similarly. In the final episode, we are given a recap of the, what you could call, main storyline. It is narrated by Tomoya, the main character, and he tells the story of both the first and second season of Clannad to his loved ones. After the huge emotional rollercoaster Clannad is known to be, this episode comforts you and tells you how big and long of a journey you have been through. It is a final goodbye. A nostalgic homage to everything the series stands for: family.
So are recap episodes necessary today?
This is a difficult question. It all comes down to whether or not it is a poorly made episode. If it is, then as a viewer, there is no justification for the episode to exist. The Internet is a much better place to gather information. From an anime studio’s perspective, however, it is a way to bring in new viewers, gain additional time and avoid lower broadcast ratings for a regular episode.
In other words, there is no real answer to the question. One could wish that more anime studios put effort into them. Then everyone would be happy.