Here’s a somewhat open-ended question: what’s the best way to open an anime with a complex plot?
There’s a lot of information the user needs to absorb, so maybe they start with a quick opening narration to offload info about the world? If not, then what about a character going about an average day in this complex world, to make it seem more normal? Is it possible a battle right off the bat would make things more exciting? I argue that the best method is none of these, though it does take some of the better elements from each.
To me, the answer is obvious and almost always the same: put together a chase scene. Nothing does as many necessary introductory things at once. It has the main cast chasing after something or someone, showing in their actions what 20 lines of dialogue often fails to convey. They use their skills and abilities in the process, introducing you to the power system of the world or the badassery of the main characters, or both. It takes place in the main setting, giving the audience a quick-and-dirty whirlwind tour. Above all, it’s dynamic and visual, like anime should be; it gives the viewers a chance to dive right into the action. Nothing gives a director a chance to show off more than a set that’s always in motion. It might not be the easiest feat to pull off, but a successful chase scene inevitably sets the stage for a dazzling performance (though the performance *may* not live up to that in the long run).
To make my point clearer, I’m going to go through the first 10 minutes of what I consider to be the holder of anime’s finest intro episode, Tiger and Bunny. T+B happens to be a well-directed anime in general, which helps make it obvious just how useful this type of scene can be. As I go through, I’ll be ticking off all the info it drops and resulting facts we learn about the cast and setting.
0 seconds in (first image):
Text on the screen is shown in English.
Fact: This is taking place in an English-speaking locale.
TV logos show up on the side of the screen.
Fact: This is a (live) TV program within a TV program.
1 second – 60 seconds:
The criminals manage to down a police car.
Fact: At least some criminals in this city are relatively well-equipped.
The studio appears to have news-graphics prepared for this chase.
Fact: Live coverage of breaking crime news is a regular occurrence in this world.
The newscaster brings up superheroes, and the fact that this program is a live broadcast of hero activities.
Fact: This show features a program where superheroes fight crimes, in real time, on live tv.
The newscaster brings up the point system and the King of Heroes title.
Fact: This program is is reality TV, but with superheroes.
Fact: Catching criminals is valued higher than saving civilians (an idea which stealthily becomes important later on in the series).
2 minutes – 3 minutes:
Fire Emblem arrives on the scene, and his infographic shows he’s affiliated with Helios Energy.
Fact: Heroes in this world have parent and/or sponsor companies, something that becomes more obvious as we meet each hero.
Fire Emblem scores 25 points for arriving first.
Fact: Not all point values are awarded for saving civilians/catching criminals.
Cut to a camera room, where a 3-person staff is actively monitoring different camera feeds.
Fact: Network TV works here the same way it does in real life.
Fire Emblem maneuvers through traffic and bullets using advanced steering technology.
Fact: Fire Emblem has a cool car, and therefore (probably) money.
3 minutes – 4 minutes:
Fire Emblem blows off a car tire with a fireball.
Fact: Fire Emblem can (surprise) shoot fire.
Rock Bison makes his arrival, stopping (and lifting!) a speeding truck and earning 5 points for arriving second.
Fact: Rock Bison is a power character.
Fact: This show gives out pity points.
The narrator points out Rock Bison’s been underperforming season. Meanwhile, Rock Bison’s horns got stuck in the truck! And now he’s dancing around while the criminals escape!
Fact: As it turns out, Rock Bison’s kind of a loser.
As the criminals escape in a hijacked taxi, Fire Emblem expresses disappointment in a decidedly feminine manner.
Fact: Fire Emblem is *ahem* not your traditional manly hero.
Dragon kid kicks out a taxi and captures 2 of the criminals of with her electric powers.
Fact: Dragon Kid is a competent kung-fu user.
Fact: Dragon Kid has electric powers.
4 minutes – 5 minutes:
Cut to what looks like a sports bar, with tv coverage and cheering fans.
Fact: Superheroes have basically replaced pro sports (or are at least their equal) in this world.
Meanwhile, Origami Cyclone appears in the background of Dragon Kid’s shot.
Fact: Origami Cyclone is a publicity whore who rarely does actual heroing.
The remaining criminal jacks a monorail, the conductor of which has a very colorful uniform. This footage is then replayed on a jumbotron above a very populous square.
Fact: This city resembles the comic-book vintage of New York more than a little.
After it becomes evident that they’re involved in a civilian hostage situation, one of the staff suggests cutting off the broadcast. Agnes immediately refuses.
Fact: Agnes cares about ratings. A lot.
Meanwhile, Wild Tiger managed to make it onto the rails of the monorail being jacked.
Fact: Wild Tiger isn’t afraid to pull crazy stunts.
5 minutes – 6 minutes:
Agnes cuts to a commercial and asks Wild Tiger to wait until the broadcast resumes. He refuses, activating his hundred power.
Fact: Wild Tiger is all about saving civilians, and doesn’t care much for the particulars of live TV.
Agnes mutters that he’s doing it again.
Fact: This isn’t the first (or the tenth) time Wild Tiger has ignored her suggestions.
As the announcer explains the hundred power, Wild Tiger bends a girder like a piece of fruit-by-the-foot.
Fact: Wild Tiger’s hundred power only lasts five minutes, which the show actively measures.
Fact: Wild Tiger becomes darn ripped when he uses said hundred power.
Fact: Wild Tiger does not care about causing property damage.
6 minutes – 7 minutes:
Meanwhile, the criminal has escaped the monorail carriage, making Wild Tiger look like kind of an idiot for jumping in.
Fact: Wild Tiger’s headstrong style sometimes makes him look like an idiot.
As the criminal climbs across a nearby blimp, Sky High jets in with a salute.
Fact: Sky High is a somewhat theatrical hero.
Fact: Sky High has wind powers and can fly.
Sky High’s title card introduces him as the King of Heroes.
Fact: Sky High is the current King of Heroes, the best of the best.
Meanwhile, everyone watching on TV starts cheering.
Fact: Sky High is wicked popular.
Also meanwhile, Wild Tiger faceplants onto the blimp.
Fact: Wild Tiger is not a graceful hero.
After the criminal responds to Sky High’s taunt by firing off a rocket, it somehow curves in such a way as to nearly hit Wild Tiger above the blimp.
Fact: Wild Tiger is unlucky.
7 minutes – 8 minutes:
Sky High uses his wind powers to save 2 civilians falling as a result of the explosion.
Fact: Sky High’s wind is powerful enough to catch people.
As the blimp begins to crash, the criminal starts screaming for help, but rebuffs Wild Tiger’s (somewhat desperate) attempt to do just that.
Fact: Even the criminals want Sky High more than Wild Tiger.
Suddenly, the blimp is headed straight for a cruise ship on the river! But it’s ok, a hand made of ice stopped it before it was too late.
Fact: One hero has ice powers.
Wait, that hand has an extended pinky!
Fact: Said hero does things with style.
8 minutes – 9 minutes:
The camera pans over Blue Rose’s arrival pose, and her costume.
Fact: Blue Rose is selling sex appeal.
Having saved a cruise liner full of people, Blue Rose earns 500 points, which is apparently the cap.
Fact: There is a 500-point cap for single actions. Presumably to maintain suspense in cases when one hero saves a building full of people and then does nothing else all year.
Blue Rose spouts her catch phrase and strikes a pose.
Fact: Blue Rose has a trademark catch phrase.
In the background, Wild Tiger has captured the criminal and is griping about how Blue Rose is a sucker for ratings.
Fact: Wild Tiger is a tad bitter about the lack of attention he gets.
Also, Wild Tiger’s breath is actually misting.
Fact: Blue Rose’s ice is actually cold.
The criminal shoots Wild Tiger in the chest, but Tiger is fine, casually picking the bullet out of his chest.
Fact: Wild Tiger is immune to bullets (at least while his power is on).
After the criminal makes a mad rush towards Blue Rose, she flees (again in a special pose).
Fact: Blue Rose runs away often enough that it’s a part of her character.
9 minutes – 10 minutes:
Wild Tiger leaps high in the air, forgetting his power is about to run out.
Fact: Wild Tiger doesn’t have a very good internal clock.
At the last second, an unlabeled hero in armor leaps in, saving Tiger and capturing the criminal.
Fact: This new kid is a total hotshot.
Fact: Unlike all the other heroes, this kid doesn’t have any sponsors yet.
10 minutes – 10 minutes 25 seconds:
After capturing the criminal, the new hero shows his face.
Fact: The new kid isn’t keeping his identity a secret, though we don’t know who he is yet.
[End of chase at 10:25]
So, to recap, in the space of 10 minutes, Tiger and Bunny teaches you no less than 50 distinct facts about its characters and setting, and does it while maintaining one fluid action scene. That’s darned impressive. Can you imagine another intro that comprehensible and instructive? More to the point, can you imagine another intro that instructive which manages to be jaw-dropping awesome at the same time? That’s the power of the chase scene as an introductory tool, and the reason it should really be used more often than it is; I can only recollect 7 such introductions from memory. Just know that whichever Spring 2013 show decides to pull one of these will have me scrambling to climb on its bandwagon.