Crunchyroll recently reported results of a Japanese survey where respondents were asked which anime had the most shocking first episode. The answers themselves were kind of shocking. While the usual suspects were there (School-live, Attack on Titan, and The Promised Neverland, for instance), along with an array of series old and new, some significant series were missing. To fill in those gaps (and reaffirm some of their selections), here’s our list of the 15 most shocking first episodes of anime series, in alphabetical order (with spoilers galore).
Angel Beats (2010)
More than a decade ago, when Jun Maeda announced that he was developing a new series, we all prepared for another epic, tearful story—what we didn’t expect was a hilarious series full of heavy doses of violence. Episode one of Angel Beats plunges viewers immediately into an unexpected setting, a school that at first seems typical, except that a female student is aiming her sniper rifle at another girl. When Otonashi, a new arrival in the world, sees the situation, he prevents the sniper from taking the shot, saying that he’ll talk to the other girl instead. His attempts at peace don’t work out too well, though, as the girl, nicknamed Angel, impales and kills him. What a start. Otonashi is revived, however, only to die once more before discovering that he’s in a most unusual kind of afterlife, featuring NPCs, its own girl band, and a war against Angel with the primary goal of simply preventing the students from permanently disappearing. As Otonashi considers all this crazy information, the episode ends, concluding one of anime’s most thrilling and engaging starts. ~ Twwk
Angel Beats is available for streaming through Crunchyroll.
Attack on Titan (2013)
The list referenced in Crunchyroll’s article put Attack on Titan at number one, and it’s hard to dispute that placement. Years later, the titans may have lost their initial visual impact, but when they first appeared on our the screens, there was nothing like them. Comedic-looking, smiling, and ferocious, they were a vision of giants that inspired by works not familiar to most viewers. And even though we all knew that their invasion was coming, the sheer power and violence which which they attacked Shiganshina was shocking, destroying walls and houses and eating any human in their paths. The graphic nature of the “battle,” the oddity of the attackers, and the artistic choices—the historical setting, the way faces are drawn, and the thrilling, revolution-tinged score—made episode one of Attack on Titan an spectacle. And of course, it ends with a devastating death, setting the stage for so many more to come. ~ Twwk
Attack on Titan is available for streaming through Crunchyroll.
Cross Game (2009)
Why would we include a baseball anime about teenagers on this list? Well, if you know, you know. Episode one of Cross Game, continuing with mangaka Mitsuru Adachi’s theme of death and grieving, delivers a mighty blow in the very first episode of the series. Ko, an elementary schooler with a talent for baseball, is absolutely adored by family friend and classmate, Wakaba, herself an athletic swimmer. Smart, responsible, and kind, the series immediately sets the two up as the main couple for the 50 episode show. That is until Wakaba drowns while trying to save a younger girl. That scene isn’t shown (instead Ko and the audience overhear a TV news report about the drowning), and it makes the episode all the more impactful as Ko silently, almost without emotion, processes the news, culminating in a tearful scene to end the episode. And thus this sets the stage for the entire plot of the series, one that centers on baseball but is really about grieving and growing up, a masterpiece from episode one through fifty. ~ Twwk
Cross Game is not available for streaming, but the manga is in print.
Elfen Lied (2004)
My mouth literally dropped and stayed like that for the entire introductory scene to Elfen Lied. I had never seen so much horror and violence occur so quickly in any media ever. How did I discover this cult-classic? By accident, of course. I had heard of it before, but like most things mentioned here and there, I paid it no mind and shuffled it away. Later, I streamed the first episode with no idea what I was about to fall into. The first episode features a naked young girl with psychic powers, which she uses to rip her captors apart as they try to subdue her. She escapes from the lab where she was being held, and without a word, murders people in ways that I don’t feel comfortable describing. I only watched it by mistake, but I can say that it was the most shocking first episode for an anime I have ever seen. Sure, there are lots of other ones that have surprised me, but the violence in Elfen Lied was just too much. I dropped this show like a hot potato and never went back (even if some others on our staff celebrate it). ~ Samuru
Elfen Lied can be streamed through Crunchyroll.
Like Elfen Lied before it, GANTZ shocks you through graphic content. Episode one is a slow burn at first, but builds to a crescendo when Kei and his childhood friend, Masaru, attempt to save a homeless man who has fallen onto the subway tracks. Unfortunately, they are unable to escape themselves, but their violent death is of course not the end of the story. There’s more violence ahead, this time of a sexual nature, when the two boys, along with a group of other people, are teleported to a room containing a mysterious black sphere, and soon, also, a naked woman who is then assaulted by one of those present. It’s a graphic start to a graphic series, That startling sensation from episode one continues throughout the first several episodes as the violence (and unusual story) continues to unfold. ~ Twwk
GANTZ can be streamed through Funimation.
Girls und Panzer (2012)
I’ll be honest; Compared to the shock value the other entries have, this one can seem rather out of place, since it’s not like it drastically affects the plot or anything. However, as far as “shocking first episodes” go, this one was the first one that came to mind for me, simply for the cool factor. Girls und Panzer is a great anime about cute girls competing in “tankery,” which is basically mock tank battles. The opener has a preview of what the tank battles are like and then goes into what is for the most part your typical high school club/sports story, so you might be forgiven for thinking that, tank battles aside, this is just another typical Japanese high school. Then, the end of the episode comes, the camera pans out, and it’s shown that the entire school is on a freaking aircraft carrier! The sheer awesomeness of that concept and how it was revealed makes it one of my favorite “shocking” openers, and while it’s not a huge influence on the story itself, it did get me interested in the world of this story, so there’s that. And more than anything, this is one of the few moments I recall of an opener that shocks not for emotional gut-punches or for mass confusion, but for sheer joy, and we need more anime that shocks in that way. ~ stardf29
Girls und Panzer is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Humanity Has Declined (2012)
As much as Girl und Panzer got to me, my vote for the most shocking first episode goes to this hidden gem. Humanity Has Declined is about a world where humanity has, well, declined in population, with fairies taking over much of the world. And these fairies are…whimsical, to say the least. The protagonist, an unnamed girl who works as a mediator between fairies and humans, has to deal with all sorts of craziness, and never quite knows what to expect the next time they start acting up. And neither do the viewers going blind into this anime. There’s definitely plenty of intriguing moments throughout the episode, but the highlight definitely is at the end, when inside a mysterious factory, the protagonist discovers a robotic talking bread loaf. That itself would be pretty eyebrow-raising, but…well, I actually don’t want to spoil it, but what actually happens to that bread is one of those moments that reminds you that Japan is the best at mind-screwing animated insanity. ~ stardf29
Humanity Has Declined is streaming on HIDIVE.
Japan Sinks: 2020 (2020)
While not every anime makes this list due to graphic violence, Japan Sinks: 2020 does, at least in part. The breathtaking opening episode (and the best of the series) begins with a minor earthquake that precedes a far more devastating one. The juxtaposition is extreme as we bounce bath and forth between the situations and settings for the four members of the Mutoh family in both the initial quake and the later one: the father is tethered at a construction site and goes from checking on everyone’s safety to seeing the entire site come crashing down on the crew; the mother is coming in from a flight, at first seeing some unusual activity before later having to crash land in the water amid wreckage and fire; the son goes from feeling a slight wobbling to getting hit so hard that he’s blinded by blood pouring from a cut into his eye; and the daughter and main character of the series laughs off the first earthquake with her track friends before surviving the later one in the locker room with her teammates, who aren’t so lucky. The frenzied locker room scene is the one that most stands out in episode one—well, other than the bodies falling from the sky. Yes, sky-falling bodies. ~ Twwk
Japan Sinks: 2020 is available for streaming through Netflix.
Mawaru Penguindrum (2011)
I’ll be honest—you could put any series from Kunihiko Ikuhara on this list, with perhaps both Yurikuma Arashi and Sarazanmai featuring far stranger opening episodes. But Mawaru Penguindrum, which I consider his best, is both weird and absolutely fantastic, but like the other two series I mentioned, also gives you plenty of uncertainty to chew on. The opening episode introduces the family life of Himari, a sickly girl, and her two brothers, Shoma and Kanba. Himari passes away, but comes back to life when wearing a special penguin hat (complete with magical girl transformation). The Princess of the Crystal, as the possessed Himari is called, desires for the brothers to retrieve the mystical Penguin Drum. Punctuated with bright colors and whimsical animation, it’s actually all even crazier than it sounds, and episode one also includes the arrival of three penguins (who are quite possibly the best mascots / pet types in all anime) and apparent incest. Like I said, there’s always uncertainty with Ikuhara. ~ Twwk
Mawaru Penguindrum is available for streaming through HiDIVE.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006)
There are a variety of approaches in watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but there’s only proper way: broadcast order, also known as Kyon order. This is how most of us experienced TMoHS when it first aired, and boy, was it an experience, something totally loopy in its execution. It begins right from the start with episode 1 (or 00 or 11 or 25, depending on how you look at it): “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00.” Without any explanation, the episode, a very obviously student-created video of a time-traveling, bunny-girl outfit wearing waitress who fights a magical alien is shown, in what amounts to a sci-fi love-story. The heroine, Mikuru, is way too shy for the role, adding to the hilarity that ensues—that is, if you can keep your confusion at bay. I’ll admit, I dropped this show three times upon trying episode one, though now, the series is one of my all-time favorites. ~ Twwk
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is available for streaming through Funimation.
Nerima Daikon Brothers (2006)
What could be more shocking or unpredictable than an anime musical? When I first watched NDB on one of Newtype USA’s preview disks (remember those boys and girls?), my jaw was on the floor. The overall premise is ripped straight from The Blues Brothers: Frontman Hideaki, his brother Ichiro and their cousin Mako have a simple dream to become famous and build a giant dome in their hometown of Nerima so they can perform shows for the populace. What makes this show special and downright surprising from the jump is the music. This isn’t just a song about musicians…this is a straight up musical anime. The characters sing, dance, and put on fully choreographed performances that are just amazing. Episode 01, which introduces the group and sets up the world of Nerima, really takes the viewer off guard with the singing and dancing as up to that point, with the exception of maybe Kodocha, we hadn’t seen this level of musical performance in anime. And what’s more, all the performances—every single one—is performed flawlessly by the English Dub cast consisting of Greg Ayres, Christopher Patton, and Luci Christian, with Christopher Ayres at the helm as ADR Director. While, yes, the songs themselves aren’t a direct translation from the original (this was 2000’s ADV we’re talking—taking liberties with the script was their thing back in the jump), they still got the point across, and the actors put on an acting and singing performance the likes of which hasn’t been fully duplicated before or since with maybe the exception of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. ~ Josh
Sadly, Nerima Daikon Brothers isn’t available for streaming. Pity, Really.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
No one dies in episode one of Evangelion. No one gets naked. And there’s no mecha fight, either. And yet, it’s one of the most stunning opening episodes of anime ever. Muted a bit in the last decade by dozens (hundreds?) of anime that have imitated the show in some way, Evangelion‘s opening episode remains a clinic in how to set a tone. Interesting animation angles, the reveal of the Eva unit and angel, the character designs, the frank talk—there’s a reason why Evangelion was the series that came up over and over again when I was first getting into the medium and searching for the one series I had to watch above all others, and is enjoying a revival with its new Netflix dub. Accompanied by the most awful father this side of Shou Tucker and featuring a bombastic soundtrack (an all-time classic opening but the BUM BUM BUM BUM tones signifying danger), episode one will do nothing if not grab your attention. And even decades later, as tastes in anime have changed greatly, it remains a compelling and powerful opening.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is available for streaming through Netflix.
The Promised Neverland (2019)
The opening episode of The Promised Neverland doesn’t really surprise you in a conventional sense. It can’t. Everything is too perfectly designed for something sinister—life is too happy for the orphans, there’s too little plot, and the opening song is too high energy for some faux-1800s childhood tale. But it’s how the episode delivers that’s so chilling, as well as the details of the reveal. Emma and Norman, leaders in the household of kids, sneak out of their home to return a beloved stuffed animal to six-year-old Conny, who has been adopted out. However, they find that Conny is dead and defiled, and while hiding for their own lives, discover that demons plan to eat her and the other orphans that are being farmed with the help of the kids’ beloved house mom. It’s spooky and dreadful, and elicits a nice jump or two. But more than that, the quality of the episode—animation, directing, writing—makes the second-half reveal feel all the more sinister, instead of trite as it might have become in lesser hands. ~ Twwk
The Promised Neverland can be streamed through Crunchyroll.
Skip Beat! (2008)
Shoujo on the list? Well, Skip Beat is no usual shoujo (though it, like Evangelion, how now been imitated many times). It features a slam bang ending to its initial episode, which until that point runs as expected. Kyoko is the mild-mannered, kind, and other unexceptional devotee to Shotarou, her childhood-friend-become-idol. As Shotarou grows in his profession, he returns to an apartment shared with Kyoko, who takes care of him apparently to help ease the pressure of fame. And though he’s often short-tempered (think of Tohru and Kyo in this relationship), Shotarou must actually love Kyoko since he asked her to accompany him to Tokyo, right? Right? Wrong. He tells his attractive manager, with Kyoko listening, that he’s only using her. And the reaction from Kyoko isn’t timid at all. Her inner demon pops out and she goes into an absolute rage, making a vow of revenge upon Shotarou by becoming a show business star herself. The surprise turn at the end of the episode is so refreshing, and the quality of voice acting makes it all the more jaw-dropping, setting the stage for one of anime’s great shoujo series, and forerunner for so very many of the personalities and situations featured in today’s Korean dramas. – Twwk
Skip Beat is available for streaming through Crunchyroll.
Vatican Miracle Examiners
Certainly Crunchyroll doesn’t have a “bad” list here, but assuredly we can dive into some more shocking territory like Danganronpa 3 having the corpse of a beloved character suspended from a chandelier crashing down into crowded room of soon-to-be victims. We could also reference the tonal dissonance of an anime like Higurashi When They Cry, especially if you don’t know anything about the anime before you step into it. However, the most pure shock and surprise I received in the first couple episodes of an anime was with Vatican Miracle Examiners, and not for the usual reasons. It was because the anime featured a pretty reasonable representation of Christianity and didn’t play it off as a joke. The writers do some good work in keeping the theology pretty solid, more than any other anime I’ve seen. It’s a story about two detective type characters working for the Vatican who go to inspect claims of miracles around the world. The first episode brings them to a Catholic school in Latin America where a girl claims to undergone stigmata. Suffice it to say, without spoiling too much, there are several gruesome murders, a devil-worshiping cult, a climactic demon-possession battle, a man getting Hydrochloric acid splashed into his face, and a plot to clone Hitler which entirely succeeds in the first plot arc of the first three episodes. It’s one of my favorite anime of all time, and I recommend anyone watch it. ~ Mecahawk
Vatican Medical Examiners is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.