Pointless Debate #13: THAT Episode

This memorable little scene from Code Geass definitely qualifies this as a THAT episode

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.

Kamille stands back and admires his work in an episode which featured the deaths of 6 (SIX) names characters

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.

You know, I think this event may change the course of events.

2. Meaning

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.

While Norris knew where to pick his spot for "victory," he still could have returned safely minutes earlier.

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.

Dead bodies are much more fun when they are symbolic of the viewer...Too harsh?

4. Time

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.

Future THAT episode potential, more for the epilogue than anything though.

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.

12 thoughts on “Pointless Debate #13: THAT Episode

  1. I think your definition works for me, although I’d say death is optional but is usually present. For me, I’d say the popular appeal part of it is particularly crucial, because it can’t be THAT episode unless people are going, “Oh man, just wait until you get to THAT episode . . .” Maybe something else to add is that the designation of THAT episode can often (but not always) be polarizing, because people could mean it in a positive or negative sense. (As is the case with Code Geass and Gurren Lagann.)

    A few examples I’d toss in there . . .

    – SDF Macross ep18 (PINEAPPLE SALAD)
    – RahXephon ep19 (fucking SAD, man)
    – Saikano ep9 (fucking saddest thing in history)

    I thought about Evangelion and Utena, but really, they’re both like one long THAT episode, haha.

    • I knew I should have thrown in that episode of Saikano, that’s just pure cruelty. I’d agree that the death is optional, it just makes things more memorable. My inclusion of an episode from Kure-nai for example is probably something most people would remember most from watching it a few years later.

  2. Short note: I don’t think a last episode can be called ‘THAT episode’. Instead it’s just ‘wait until you reach the end!’. For that reason I wouldn’t include School Days. Or, something I’m rather amazed you missed, the last episode(s) of Evangelion.

    • Evangelion I left out simply because there were too many episodes in that I could choose from. The last pair of episodes sort of proves the point since I think in the grand scheme of things they can really be ignored.

  3. Aria the Origination 09 (the gloves are fucking off)
    Martian Successor Nadesico 19 (We Remonstrate Love)
    Macross Frontier 10 (We Remember Love)
    Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu I can’t even tell htf episodes are numbered (God Knows)
    Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory (Solomon I have returned!)
    Mobile Fighter G Gundam (shit I forgot which near the end)… THE EAST IS BURNING RED

    Post made me remember love~

  4. Few episodes have ever been as memorable for me as episode 82 of Legend of Galactic Heroes. The last image of that episode is engraved in my retina forever.

    • There’s a reason why I gave 2 episodes of the series a mention. ghostlightning above originally said 26, while I went with 82 for the reason you mentioned. I think it comes down to sympathy for certain sides, though.

  5. Id say an episode being completely wacky or outrageous compared to the rest of the series can define a THAT episode.

    Mobile Suit Gundam – The crew risk their lives looking for salt
    Eureka Seven – The soccer episode
    Then there are episode which people weren’t even aware they existed until they got older and then they became THAT episode.
    The banned pokemon episodes and the hot spring episode from Outlaw Star come to mind.

    • I included the musical episode of Kure-nai for that reason. The Outlaw Star episode I can remember, but I would say it wasn’t much more than a very late fanservice episode with only one bit relevant to the entire plot of the show. Good call on infamous episodes in general though.

  6. Some months well after the fact, I’ll put in my 2 cents. A THAT episode has to be a surprise, one that could (jarringly) takes the series in a different direction, but at least is unique and instantly memorable. Unlike Scamp, I think A THAT episode can be at the end, because School Days and Eva’s finales came so far from left field, they’re remembered as touchstone moments in the fan community’s collective consciousness. I’m also of the belief a single series can only have at most one THAT episode/mini-arc, otherwise people wouldn’t know which THAT was a reference to.

    Some yet unmentioned THATs:
    - Bakemonogatari ep 12 (Deneb, Altair, Vega)
    - Dennou Coil ep 12 (it’s the beards)
    - Claymore ep 8 (“Awakening”)
    - Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 ep 8 (double fake out; or is it?)
    - Toradora ep 24 (asdfal;kf;ksaklj)

    • I think I would agree with that sentiment mostly. The one episode you mention that I have seen would qualify in my opinion, though there are other episodes of equal quality.

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