The importance of “the first time”

So let’s talk about spoilers again.

Often have I made the argument that spoilers don’t matter, that a series should be enjoyable in spite of them. The idea behind this line of thought is that the craft of storytelling dictates that strong writing, directing and so on overcome any details you may know going in. In fact, as I’ve argued is the case with School Days (my first piece about anime so please be kind, it’s particularly superfluous), being spoiled can change how you approach a series for the better. You may think that I’m therefore an advocate for spoilers or at least don’t care about being spoiled but the truth is that I put tremendous value in the idealized concept of the “first time.”

The element of surprise is a powerful thing because it elicits a raw, genuine reaction from its target. You leave your emotional agency at the door when you give yourself over to a storyteller. In fact, it’s the distinct job of the people “making the sausage” to preempt how the audience will feel at every turn and shape their craft around it. This becomes much more difficult when you lose the ability to catch the viewer off-guard. Screenwriters are taught to keep the audience thinking half a step ahead of the characters so you can then subvert expectations but when your audience is a full step ahead of you all of that careful emotional sculpting can be for naught. How much you feel the effect of a writer’s intentions is inverse to the amount of information you know about the series going in.

I do need to emphasize that surprise doesn’t equal shock as I deride in my School Days piece. Constantly killing characters off or trying to generate buzz through stark, splashy moments is exactly the type of spoiler I think is overvalued in modern pop culture. It’s not that these events are always cynical or void of meaning and in fact even in scenarios where they are as such they can contribute greatly to the “first time” impact. However, the “surprise” I’m talking about is a more nebulous concept.

Think of it this way: I’m watching Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid at the moment. As someone who decided to try a few seasons not watching anime as it airs but is simultaneously present in places these shows are discussed I’ve seen my fair share of screenshots and gifs across every episode of the series. Each time I come across them in the series it’s a bit cool to understand their context but ultimately I get the sense that I’ve seen it before. Sure, it’s a slice of life series where plot is of little concern but these seemingly surface-level “spoilers” take away from the emotionally-driven impact of its first impression. I think this is important. However analytical I or anyone wants to approach a series and try to “objectively” assess it, we’re emotional creatures at the end of the day. Our appreciation for something is experiential. I’m not saying having seen and been obsessed with the maximum cuteness that are Kanna gifs over the past three months has necessarily caused me to enjoy Dragon Maid less but because of it the act of watching the series has taken on a sense of going through the motions.

A lot of series simply wouldn’t hold up for a second viewing either. Your “first time” can be a blissfully blinding experience, one in which the mechanics of a story, flaws in character development and other critique-worthy elements can be glossed over because you’re latched into its world. We all have series we watched years ago that are personal 9s and 10s but if we watched them with more seasoned eyes they would fail to capture the same magic. In fact, I’d wager that would probably be the case for me with School Days, a series that my uncommon approach to hinged heavily on the tension of nebulously knowing its conclusion as I dreadfully watched everything leading up to it play out. My analysis of its themes would likely stand, an important part of why I love the series to be sure, but what sticks out in my mind when I think about School Days are those four straight hours of pure unease.

On that note, I think it’s important for us analytical types to take into account the emotional appeal of series. Perhaps it’s not something that needs to impact our analyses but we’d be remiss to disregard that for many or even most audience members it’s how they engage with their entertainment– solely as entertainment. It’s the typical pundit class dilemma of approaching a subject matter with a greater importance than your typical person would ever even consider. We can pick apart Sword Art Online for millennia but for the countless fans of the franchise these characters clicked in and that’s all they need to fuel their fandom. They’ve bought in for life, or at least until they’ve moved onto the next thing. And you know what? I think that’s worth celebrating as a community, that people can love things on their own terms, for their own reasons. Who are we to deem what does and doesn’t have value?

Don’t take this as an admonishment of textual analysis. You’re reading this blog so I don’t need to tell you why it’s an important element to the appreciation of any art form. However, it’s the more “fanboyish” side of appreciation that keeps a community positive and engaged. Fostering this will make people more open to appreciating in-depth critique and analysis, even if it doesn’t line up with their own takes.

Whatever your own opinions on this subject, picking a series you know nothing about– perhaps one that never gets discussed– and jumping in head-first is an experience worth having from time to time. If it turns out to be to your liking, sit back and let the element of surprise draw you in. Take in the moment because moments are what fuel memories.

Also, sexual innuendo. You were all thinking it.

 

I continue the discussion on spoilers in a follow-up post that you can find here.

22 thoughts on “The importance of “the first time”

  1. I really like your assessment in the conclusion that analytical reviewers should be more mindful of the emotional aspect of storytelling in our approach. Emotional impact and response has inherent value that is often overlooked. It’s actually something that’s been on my mind a lot recently.

    I also like your clarification on how the spoilers that matter the most in the context of preserving the emotional response of the “first time” are often more broad and conceptual in nature, not just character deaths and shock value. Definitely an important distinction to make.

    Great post as always. Thanks for the good read.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One Piece is probably the only series (or even thing) that I’ve re-engaged with several times and still resonated with me on an emotional level each time. Even when i knew the *spoilers* to come, I still felt the emotions of the scene because of how powerful they were made to feel. There’s a sense of inevitability with certain moments that is just as powerful a feeling as surprise. Knowing what fate awaits certain characters (that you love) and finally arriving at them still carries weight and meaning that can be just as effective (or close to) as the initial surprise you otherwise would have had.

    Great post by the way (as usual).
    ~ Ace

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s definitely true. For me, rewatching Monogatari has been incredibly rewarding, peeling back layers that were lost in the series’ superfluous dialogue in my first viewing. And a great story is timeless. For me those are far rarer beasts than the series I’ll watch once, have that experience, then move on, but they exist.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Which is something I don’t think scrutiny or nitpicking can change – like sure, Code Geass has its flaws and jumps the shark quite a bit in the second season, but even just re-watching it through AMVs has the feelings attached to my memories of it resurfacing in unexpectedly powerful ways (the ending still gets to me no matter how many times I watch it). Same for Toradora! and The World Only God Knows (at least for me).

        I look forward to re-watching the monogatari series (after I finish the rest).
        ~ Ace

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The emotional impact of a series is one of the main reasons I engage with the medium the way I do, and I feel that this area is often overlooked, so I really enjoyed this post.

    While I also don’t believe that spoilers are as big of a deal as many make them out to be, there’s nothing quite like your “first time” (lol) with a series. I’ll never forget my first marathon of Hunter x Hunter. It was the best Anime experience I’ve ever had, and I wish I could experience it all over again (but I can’t!)

    I was actually considering doing a post on this very topic myself, but now I don’t need to 😛 Thanks for sharing such an awesome post!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. While I do think a show has to grip you in some way initially before you can really get into analyzing it, I think a lasting impression that holds up over time is essential for a favorite show of mine. Many of my scores on MAL, for example, have changed a lot over time. Monogatari Series: Second Season was only an 8 for me on the first watch, but the more I could not stop thinking about how great some of its character moments were, how it brings the show’s themes to new depths, and how its genius structure changes the way you look at the entire franchise surrounding it, I bumped it up to a 9 and eventually to a 10. Simply, if a show doesn’t keep getting better the more I think about it, it can never broach that sacred territory of the 9-10 range, the shows I consider the very best I’ve seen.

    The same applies for me in an emotional sense. I felt exhilarated the first time I watched certain scenes The End of Evangelion (one of my 10/10 anime), for example, but the deep resonance that movie now has with me only came after I thought about it a lot more. Now I can’t watch Asuka’s battle with the military, her verbal confrontation with Shinji toward the end, Misato’s speech to Shinji by the elevator, or many of the other key scenes without becoming extremely emotional. A show loses much of its value to me if I forget about it quickly.

    Spoilers are an interesting beast in this regard, because I can also easily imagine shows I liked being worse if I knew what to expect from them. I watched my favorite anime, Madoka Magica, knowing absolutely nothing about it except a stupid meme video from the English dub translation, and my initial passion for the show largely came from how much my expectations were flouted. Granted, it has held up in both emotional impact and thematic depth as I have thought about it and rewatched it, but I cannot help but wonder if spoilers might have completely ruined my initial interest in it.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents. A good post as usual, and food for thought as always. You are making me feel like I should write something myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t disagree with you on shows that leave a lasting impression being particularly special. While I won’t say you can’t be a 9 or even 10 in my book on first impression (although that number can and does go down for me later), I also feel like my favorite things can be late bloomers. It took me a minute to come around to End of Eva because I was so shell-shocked the first time I watched it that it was difficult to process. I’d consider it a 10 now. However, I do cherish that first viewing of the film and the emotions it caused me. I think it’s what Anno intended and his ability to play me like a fiddle plays heavily into my appreciation of the film.

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  6. I loved your piece on the emotional impact anime makes and especially when it’s our first time watching a show. I’ll tell you a secret I’m working on something related to this topic should be out on sunday or monday if your interested be on the look out !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I believe the point of avoiding spoilers for some people is to gain that suspense or shock value, but I feel you don’t need that to enjoy a series as much. I’ve been spoiled and still felt amazed, with my example being HxH. Basically, the concept of spoiling is dumb, but watching for the first time is important.

    Also, my mind was totally in the gutter with that title and assumed you made a hentai analysis or something, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. I think you’re right. No matter what part/type of the media you consume, you’re still consuming it and it does affect your viewing experience. I’ve noticed the same thing with myself. Your Maid Dragon example was 100% spot-on as how it happens for me with shows, so I just tend to avoid anything related to a show I really like until I’m done with it.

    This does have its downsides, but I feel like it gives me a better understanding of my experiences and analyzing those instead of analyzing others’ experiences compared to my own, if that makes any sense.

    That said, I do absolutely agree that the first viewing experience is important, and we do need to remember that the emotional aspect is a part of the viewing experience and of that person’s analysis of something. It’s one reason why different people can watch the series and get completely different experiences, and I love that.

    You absolutely nailed it here. Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s nearly impossible for me to avoid anything about shows these days. At the very least I’ll see screencaps on Twitter. It comes with the territory, honestly. I may go back to watching shows live because I didn’t account for this element.

      Liked by 1 person

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