In a community of people, it’s very much possible for common understandings to develop without needing to elaborate the idea in words. One of ideas I was thinking of earlier is the ability of certain things to be recalled just with the word “that,” mainly capitalized as THAT for emphasis. For instance, someone could just refer to an episode of a series they have both seen just as THAT episode, in such a way that a particular episode is more memorable than any other. So I wondered, what exactly gives an episode that status?
In the course of my minimal research (consisting entirely of a few Twitter responses and my own viewing experience), I came up with a few guidelines which apply to me at least.
1. There Will Be Blood
One of the commonalities that stood out immediately was the idea of death. It certainly tied into the penultimate episode of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, where Tomino was in full “Kill ‘Em All” form. Among the other suggestions was the last episode of the first season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which featured the death of Kircheis and ultimately shaped the events of what happened later. When important characters die, the episodes themselves become much more memorable, but there has to be something else which goes beyond their deaths or a high body count.
This is the step where I threw away episodes like the opening episode of Elfen Lied (high body count, but ultimately serving as partial character development) and the cardboard cutout episode of Kare Kano (since there’s only 3 minutes of new content apart from the animation gimmicks). To make an episode memorable, it has to have meaning as well. Kircheis’ death left a void in Reinhard that he was never able to fill for example. Euphemia’s Geass-induced rampage meant the apartheid state of Area 11, which seemed to be coming to an end, would in fact continue for some time in the most emphatic and depressing way possible.
3. Popular Appeal
There’s also a need for an episode to have been watched by at least 2 people, which rules out most obscure OVAs and numerous TV series from before 2002. Within more niche sections of fandom, this changes. The 10th episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team has many of the elements mecha fans appreciate as well as action fans in general. The centerpiece of the episode is the confrontation between the veteran Zeon pilot Norris and protagonist Shiro Amada. Even hand-to-hand combat, the struggle to survive and ultimately satisfying ending to the battle are played out over a brilliant orchestral score.
Ultimately, people can’t remember every episode they’ve ever watched of any show. Therefore, to qualify as THAT episode it has to be especially memorable in a way that separates it from other episodes in the same series over the long term. Trying to say a particular episode of Angel Beats! is THAT episode doesn’t really work since there are enough people who have different memories of a show that just ended. In a different way, while many would say the last episode of School Days is the defining episode of the series, for someone who forced themselves to go through it yesterday while drinking to make it easier would see it more as the end of a painful journey.
In conclusion, this is really just about human memory. It’s much easier to remember the beginning and end of a journey, character or story than something in between. Most of the examples I could think of involved at least one of these, but that doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. What do you think goes into making something THAT episode? Do you have your own favorites that you think others would understand? I’m putting my own understanding of the concept at risk by listing some episodes below.
- Code Geass Season 1 Episode 22
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes Episodes 26 and 82
- School Days Episode 12
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team Episode 10
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Episode 8
- Kure-nai Episode 6
There’s probably more to this, but those were just the ones that immediately sprang to mind.