Recap episodes are generally unwelcome. I haven’t met anyone who looks forward to them. I remember the awful recap episodes in Kare Kano that all but ruined the anime for me. When my friends and I re-watch anime (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann recently), we skip the recap episode(s) entirely. These here are two recap episodes that I’d dare not miss. Not only there was an obvious effort to make the episode not only a recapitulation of the narrative so far, they really added something special and particular to the respective franchise or series.
Macross Frontier episode 15
A summary and opinions in Crusader’s post:
That was one of the best recap episodes I have ever seen, where the usually route is to just give a run down of the events things were made much more interesting by having Grace and her cabal do all the talking. While the events are the same ones we have all seen, there were a good deal of interesting plot threads presented this time around.
The key mechanism here is that Grace O’Connor, a character that had just been revealed as a villain, further reveals herself and the nature of her villainy by narrating how she/they influenced or controlled events in the narrative from the beginning.
[…]it was a superbly done AMV coupled with an interesting set of narrators. Adding in the last couple scenes mitigated the recap factor, and added some significant development for both contenders for Alto-hime’s hand, as well as introducing Mr. Briler as a real character.
The use of Sheryl’s ‘Welcome to my Fan Club’s Night’ is very good. It’s a song that reflects her power as diva pop-idol and reminds us – as a recap episode should, that she exists in the narrative this way. This allows the narrative to move on with Ranka’s rise, and Sheryl’s own fall from Grace [NICE PUN! I deeply apologize, I couldn’t help myself].
The scene above have influenced some to make hyperbolic claims of the episode being the best recap ever. The episode sets up the love triangle in full. In SDF Macross, the rivalry between Minmei and Misa didn’t really materialize until the very end, it was more like fits, starts, and memories. Here not only it is expressed overtly, it was a battle befitting two idol singers. Macross 7 had its share of song battles, but here it’s truly winsome (never mind that Alto acted like a complete loser). Innovating on the recapping methods plus adding new content that either establishes narrative drivers/conflicts and being awesomely entertaining is what elevated this episode. But in terms of sheer innovation, I think the crown belongs to Martian Successor Nadesico.
Martian Successor Nadesico episode 14
Granted, MSN innovates a whole lot – part of it being a send-up and homage of the space opera/mecha genre of anime. Each episode is packed with exposition done in lively and entertaining ways. A key device in MSN is the use of a fictional anime-within-the-anime show called Gekigangar 3.
In many episodes, what’s going on in the particular episode either reflects a conflict within Tenkawa Akito, or foreshadows something in the narrative. I had wondered openly before whether anime heroes would be anime fans like us. If they weren’t, I’d have half a mind to question my own hobby. Akito is a serious Gekigangar fanboy, the kind I can relate with. The novelty in the recap episode is that instead of Akito or the other characters in the Nadesico watching Gekigangar 3, we’re thrown into some kind of warp wherein the characters of Gekigangar 3 are watching an anime called Nadesico.
This allows the episode to provide both recapitulation of both narrative events and exposition regarding the overall setting, which is quite rich.
A big part of the fun in this show is the slices of frantic life in its well-developed setting, as can be seen below:
Then it gets really fun. The antagonists of Gekigangar 3 are also watching the Nadesico anime!
Part of what makes MSN seem so damn smart are all these homages and subversions it pulls on traditions and tropes. I mentioned how the Akito’s narrative is influenced by the episode of Gekigangar 3 he was watching at the time. In this episode we see the roles reversed: The characters of Gekigangar 3 are taking hints from the Nadesico anime episode they’ve just watched.
Since this is traditional super robot anime, it’s quite a foregone conclusion that the good guys win. Definitely a feel-good end that also punctuates the somewhat self-congratulatory cleverness (deserved imo) throughout the episode.
If there’s one thing that I’ve read that people nitpick on about MSN episode 15, is that the Nadesico anime that the Gekigangar characters watched isn’t ‘canon’ in the MSN narrative. I mean, the actual show wherein Yuriko and Ruri did hosting duties. Well, I think it can’t possibly be canon – it’s really just a conceptual conceit that’s done quite well, and has elevated the recap episode into a different class.
What other anime was creative with their recap episode(s)? There aren’t a lot of these recently, but if they do so with the creativity like how these two titles did it, I wouldn’t mind at all.