The Repelling Thing Known as the “Recap Episode”

You are happily watching your favorite ongoing anime when suddenly you are faced with an episode preview that clearly shows that there will be a recap episode next week, whereupon you become filled with disgust and curse the anime studio which dares to put a new and fresh episode on hold for the sake of a simple summary.

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?

Every time.

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.

18 thoughts on “The Repelling Thing Known as the “Recap Episode”

  1. The best filler episode is “Nice Boat” from School Days… Not a recap, but it served the purpose of delaying the last episode.

  2. Yerocha says:

    Usually I skip these kinds of episodes, even in some cases where people tell me they aren’t so bad (like with Chihayafuru). Most of the time when I see recap episodes, something is added in to make it feel more interesting, but it still can’t match up to a regular episode. I do have to agree with the Death Note recap being very well done, though.

  3. Ty-chama says:

    I think the best recap episodes are those that add to the series in some way rather than just summarising, the Eve no Jikan movie, for example. The movie mostly recapped the events of the ONA, but there were a couple of short new scenes here and there that really helped add to the story and explain some things the ONA left unanswered. I understand not all shows can do this due to budgetary constraints, but it’s nice anyway…

  4. illogicalzen says:

    I can avoid recap episodes since a significant number of them are little more than fluff used to fill a gap where a series only has 22 episodes of actual content. But, there are some recap episodes that are enjoyable to watch, and should be considered as a distinct element of the series. Guilty Crown for example had an extended 50 minute recap episode that turned out to be far superior than the previous 12 episodes, although this does have a lot to do with the series itself being pretty terrible.

    • Marow says:

      I love that the Guilty Crown recap isn’t considered a part of the series itself, but an “extra”, if you get what I mean. It didn’t waste an episode.

      A lot of people say the recap was good, but I decided to not watch it since I disliked the series. Now I almost want to give it a chance…

  5. Hurvilo says:

    The best recap episode I’ve ever seen gotta be that one in Gintama where Prince Baka suddenly storms in and start dubbing all the voices in a ridiculous fahsion. It’s hilarious!

    But overall I think a really good recap episode have to tell something NEW, at the same time as it shows previous events. An excellent way to do this is to show things from a different viewpoint (as you noted). But generally, if there is a recap episode in my animu batch, I will watch it regardless.

    • Marow says:

      A comedy such as Gintama can do whatever the heck it wants, haha! But… wait… it’s a comedy, why would it need recaps? 😮

      I agree with everything you said. But I usually check if the recap is good or not and then decide if it should be skipped or not 😛

  6. ZakuAbumi says:

    Recap episodes can come in quite handy. For instance, if you own a title on DVD and want to put the damn thing on-hold or generally lose your motivation in a show but just don’t want to drop it, a recap episode as the next episode can do some good. Even after a while of not watching the show, you can easily go back to watching, ensuring that you don’t forget about relevant information. Sure, that’s not really likely to happen, but in cases like those, you know to value Japan’s infamous attempts at wisely investing money.

    Other than that though, those damn things better stay away from me!

    • Marow says:

      Afraid I’ve never experienced that! (and there’s no recaps on the DVDs I do have either).

      Personally, a recap episode would not be enough for me. Besides, to have the actual recap work, it needs to be around the place where you stopped. Might as well just re-watch an episode or two to freshen up the memory instead.

  7. Myst says:

    I would say that the biggest pain with recap episodes (at least for me anyway) is when they show up in the currently airing shows. If there is one on a show that you own or have downloaded it is easy enough to skip (something I do all the time). But while you can skip a recap episode for something that is currently airing it is still a delay to the actual show. I have to wonder whether this is done deliberately at times. Recaps often re-use scenes and assets, so it is a possibility that they are putting the show on hold to give themselves more time. Whether this is to progress more on that show, a different show the studio is tackling simultaneously, or just cause they want a break, re-cap episodes just don’t require as much work to put together.

    • Marow says:

      I’m usually good at waiting, so it’s no real problem for me, but yeah, it still feels a bit bothersome.

      And of course, recaps re-uses footage, how else would it be a recap? ;p

  8. Overlord-G says:

    I just take them as the writers having something really big planned for the next episode so they delay it one more week to make torture our psyche. Good thing there are other shows on my schedule all the time, otherwise, the torture might actually have an effect on me. Otherwise, make me laugh and I’ll watch your recap.

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