Premieres and finales. Are they the most important episodes of a series? Broadly speaking, I would say yes. And I’d add that final episodes are, generally, the hardest to get right (and that applies to more than just anime). And they’re challenging in another sense as well. As I wrote in my Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu series review post:
Finales, for me, are at their best as vehicles for reflection by both the cast and the audience – a time for quiet rather than bombast.
Given all that, this makes an interesting topic for a retrospective. Once more it’s Nicc (the LiA MVP without a doubt) who commissioned this piece. At his request, these are just the best (in my view) premieres and finales generally. Not, that is to say, ones that are dramatically better than their series as a whole. That said, if I had any ties, I went with the latter just for the sake of making a more interesting list that shines a greater spotlight on the episodes themselves.
The hardest thing about this topic (and others like it) is trying to remember – in this case, all the first and last episodes I’ve really loved. I’ve been watching anime for a very long time, having finished by my estimation a number of series in the high three digits. Amongst those how the heck am I supposed to remember all the best premieres and finales, especially avoiding a recency bias in the process? Not an easy ask, I can tell you.
As Nicc’s commission was for for both premieres and finales, I decided to do five of each. As well, not to rank them against each other, as I think that would be basically impossible. They each have a different job to do and those jobs are very different. Choosing five first episodes was a lot easier I can tell you – there are many more examples of great premieres than great finales in the annals of anime history.
Without further ado, then, on to the list(s)!
#5 – Tsuritama
I had two premieres on the same day that could have appeared here. Spring 2012 was a truly staggering anime season, one of the best ever. It was also for my money the clear best season ever for NoitaminA (and that’s a pretty high bar). Tsuritama is a series I truly love. I ranked it 7th on my 2010’s Top 20 list, and that feels too low if anything. What a first episode this was – an explosion of color, sound, comedy, and the raw emotion of adolescent neuroses. It was to be the start of a truly great ride, the best work Nakamura Kenji has done in his illustrious career.
#5 – Undead Girl Murder Farce
Recency bias? I really don’t think so. Undead Girl Murder Farce is not a series I consider an all-time classic, though it was really good. But its finale was a staggering display of directorial genius by Hatakeyama Mamoru. Auteur works are a theme on this list, I think, both for premieres and finales. This was truly a glorious experience, beautiful and surreal and breathlessly imaginative. An anime ending for an ongoing manga adaptation could hardly be executed better.
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