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Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Some series have a really straight forward premise which they execute immediately. Others play it close to the chest until the very end of the first episode. Either way most shows need to establish their tone and/or premise in their first episode to both make the viewer feel comfortable and filter out the people who wouldn't like the show.
Most of these moments are based on HSQ or just showing us what either the premise or the execution would be. It's normally done in a straightforward way. With no anticipation or foreshadowing to both overwhelm and surprise the audience and make them addicted to the show. Note that promotional materials can spoil these moments.
Can overlap with First Episode Spoiler, but an Establishing Series Moment doesn't have to be a spoiler. Contrast with Halfway Plot Switch. Compare Establishing Character Moment where the purpose is to show us a character's personality in one single moment, and with Growing the Beard where the quality of the show is established.
- The first thirty seconds of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann contain an entire galactic cluster exploding, a lot of pseudo-sciency dialogue about Maelstrom cannons and the fabric of space-time and one of the series' defining catchphrases being delivered before inspiring music plays during a huge pan out over a badass space cruiser.
Future/Alternate Simon: Gurren Lagann, spin on! Just who the hell do you think I am?
- Then, in case you forgot the largely unrelated opening, the story beings again looking like an introspective look at the consequences and culture of a civilization that has been underground so long that they don't even believe in the surface anymore - before Kamina rams two herds of pig moles together and attempts to use their upward momentum to propel himself up towards the surface. It only gets better from there.
- Darker Than Black demonstrates what it really is only by the end of the second episode, when the visible part of its plot is twisted to the hell and back.
- School Rumble starts with Tenma talking about how love is the greatest thing in the world. Then Harima, who looks more suited as a heavy or the hero of a Shounen anime, talks about the same thing... immediately after beating the snot out of a bunch of other delinquents.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica initially seems like a relatively grim but still typical magical girl show. Then comes episode three, where the series resident Cool Big Sis gets her head bitten off and her corpse eaten messily, which sets the tone nicely for what's still to come.
- Episode 3 of Bokurano. The kids beat the robot and save the day. Then one of them falls off the robot and dies.
- Seto no Hanayome began with the improbable incident of a Magical Girlfriend proposing marriage to an Unlucky Everydude. Then Masa-san and his Yakuza crew enter the picture. The craziness snowballs from there.
- Ranma One Half. A girl and a panda fighting in the rain.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion starts like any other Super Robot series up until the moment Gendo emotionally blackmails Shinji into piloting EVA-01 by wheeling out the gravely injured Rei.
- Followed by Shinji attempting to battle the Angel, failing miserably (even at just making the EVA walk), which causes Unit 01 to take matters into its own hands.
- Wandering Son starts off as a rather typical looking Seinen manga about a boy in elementary school. He has a nice family, his sister's a little mean, he makes some friends with girls.. Then we learn that he liked it when some girls forced him to dress like a girl.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni looks like it could pass as a harem series if you ignore the intro of both the anime and manga. However as the first episode goes on we learn of some mysterious deaths and some of the characters start acting secretive about it. So it's a mystery related harem? But than while the Decoyprotagonist is hanging around waiting for his friend, she comes out with a cleaver (though it made sense in context). That sets the mood for the series, which gets progressively more grim before bouncing between the two.
- Akazukin Chacha fudging up a spell shows she's an inept wizard as well as the show's reliance on Hurricane of Puns as it's main source of humor.
- Ga-Rei Zero doesn't even wait until the third episode to show that Anyone Can Die and the effect of the Artifact of Doom. The squad in the promotional posters, including the Ensemble Darkhorse Badass Biker girl? Dead at the end of the first episode, killed by one of the main characters turned evil.
- Senki Zesshou Symphogear: There are Badass Magical Girl Warrior fighting swarms of Eldritch Abominations with the power of songs. Their valiant struggle will eventually cost them their lives. This is shown in the early part of the first episode with Kanade's death, and before that, with Miku visiting Hibiki's grave
- Black Butler does this within the first episode: It seems like your standard period-piece/SliceOfLife anime, with typical Scenery Porn and Cloudcuckoolander s, until it gets to the last eight-and-a-half minutes, until Sebastian (possibly under the direction of the board game Ciel was reciting) reveals just how cruel and deadly he can be- by driving the poor bastard Corrupt Corporate Executive to insanity, breaking his leg to the point of immobility, and then roasting him alive inside a cramped, iron-cast oven.
- Berserk introduces us to Guts by showing him killing a demon (the first of many frightening things the reader will see). He then walks into a tavern where some men have turned an elf into their plaything.
- Transmetropolitan starts with Spider Jerusalem getting a call to get back to work. In his way there, the guy destroys a bar with a Rocket Launcher for the hell of it, establishing the fact that Spider is not only completely amoral, but that the series doesn't shy away from Black Humor.
- In chapter one of All Fall Down, a news vendor comforts a small boy by telling him "Nothin' bad ever lasts in the comics. Death, doom, disaster? There's nothin' they can't fix." Moments later, a superhero plummets out of the sky, destroying the news stand and dying instantly.
- Bone opens with a few pages of amusing bickering by a standard Comic Trio of cartoonish anthopomorphic bones. Cue an attack by a horde of locusts, which splits the three of them up and strands them in an unfamiliar place.
- Naruto Veangance Revelaitons showcases what kind of a fic it is with a brief parenthetical note in the first chapter after describing the main character's hair as being like that of Justin Bieber (i dont liek him tho FUCK HIM HE SUCKS ALL MODERN MUSIC FUCKING SUCKS")
- Light and Dark The Adventures of Dark Yagami establishes its highly illogical and unpredictable plot by having Light's father, who is initially shown to be in America with the rest of his family, suddenly turn out to be disguised as Watari, and even more suddenly turn out to actually be on L's side at the end of the next chapter.
- In the Sesame Street fanfic "Lessons Learned on Sesame Street", the nature of the fic becomes apparent very early on when Maria starts rubbing her own vagina upon waking up. As one Dramatic Reading found here put it:
"We're getting right into it! Wow!"
- Run Lola Run starts off as a standard crime thriller. Lola hears from her boyfriend that he's a dead man if he doesn't get 100 thousand Marks for some mobsters in the next 20 minutes. Lola hangs up and runs out of her apartment to help him. Then, one-third into the movie, Lola gets shot and killed. Suddenly, we're back in Lola's apartment, and Lola hangs up the phone and runs out the door again.
- Shoot Em Up begins with a close up of Mr Smith. He just stares out into space, then takes a bite of a carrot. This sets up the silly, cartoony sense of humour. Later, at the beginning of the very first fight, Smith shoots a tanker of gasoline, causing it to spill everywhere, runs at it... and uses it to slide along the ground, shooting everyone. This sets up the balls to the wall awesome action we'll be seeing.
- His brother was killed by a toon.
- The introduction of the DeLorean in Back to The Future. Prior to that, the film could pass as your standard '80s teen comedy. Of course, it still is a teen comedy, but not exclusively.
- The Usual Suspects seemed like just an average crime thriller up until the name "Keyser Soze" was mentioned.
- The first few minutes of Kung Pow: Enter The Fist looks like an actually serious kung fu flick. That is until Master Pain opens his mouth.
- The first chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire is told from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old excited to be going to his first beheading.
- If that scene doesn't do it, the scene where a man pushes that same seven-year-old out the window because the child caught the man screwing his sister will.
- If the first time Harry opened his mouth didn't do it, blowing up the toad demon and breaking into the Varsity did it for the Dresden Files.
- How I Met Your Mother's moment is either the first ten seconds, which establishes that the show is a story Future!Ted is telling his children, or the last ten seconds, which reveals that Ted and Robin's relationship is destined to fall apart, instead of being another Ross/Rachel mess.
- The Wire starts with Officer McNulty talking with a witness and investigating a murder. The subject of the conversation (not about what happened, but about who the victim was) establishes that the series has a rather different outlook than your usual Police Procedural, and the tone of the conversation demonstrates where the show stands on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
- NCIS: They steal Air Force One in the pilot.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer defines itself as a subversion of horror early on when we are shown two kids (a girl in a Catholic school uniform, and a biker boy) and are led to expect the girl to be the Monster of the Week's first victim. Then she turns into a vampire and kills the boy. Note that at the time, this was one of the first instances of this trick.
- Angel's moment was when he fails to chat up a girl who may be in trouble showing his "brooding, mysterious protector" schtick isn't gonna work. New show, new strategy.
- The Event pilot was building its mysteries (Where's Leila? Who attacked the Buchanan family? etc, etc) but there was no reason to believe that this wasn't a realistic show about a conspiracy. Cue the disappearing plane...
- Lost started with the main characters in a deserted island, and seemed to be about the survival of these people. Then we hear a mechanical roar at night. And later a fucking polar bear shows up.
- Life On Mars has a pretty obvious one in the first episode. It starts as as a normal police procedural, until one of the officers is captured by the supposed killer. When her DCI boyfriend is mourning her in the middle of the road, he gets out of the car, is run over, and well... wakes up in 1973, not knowing if he's mad, in a coma, or back in time.
- The spin-off Ashes to Ashes starts of very similarly. Alex Drake goes to work, gets shot in the face and wakes up in 1981. She's also aware that she's in a coma (in the future/present) and getting stalked by the clown from Bowie's music video Ashes To Ashes.
- The Doctor Who Spin-Off Torchwood appears to be a normal British police drama, until Captain Jack appears and starts using Alien technology to interview dead people. A few minutes later, Torchwood member Owen is seen using an alien date rape drug to seduce a woman and her boyfriend against their will, very definitely setting the show apart from Doctor Who.
- The revival of Doctor Who had Rose stumbling upon the Autons and then brought in the Doctor to rescue Rose while defining the show in one word: "Run!" And then made the place explode to get rid of the Autons.
- True Blood: The very first scene of the very first episode of this series uses this trope. A goth gas station attendant tricks some tourists into thinking he's a vampire. After they leave a red-neck vampire tells him that if the goth ever impersonates a vampire again he'll kill him.
- Dexter starts with the title character kidnapping a choir master, who's also a child rapist and murderer, and showing him the dead bodies of the victims shortly before killing him. It shows the internal monster in Dexter that loves to kill, while also showing a human side that refuses to kill children, setting the base for the Character Development that is the main point of the show.
- Early on in the pilot of The Black Donnellys, the oldest Donnelly, Jimmy, is about to get in a bar fight. His younger brother Tommy tries to calm him down, but Jimmy just leaps over the bar and bashes a guy with a glass. Immediately Tommy jumps in to help Jimmy out, and their other two brothers disengage from what they were doing -- hitting on girls and playing pool -- to help their older brothers out. It's a minute-long scene that establishes that this show is about how family comes first and to hell with anything else.
- The various Star Treks pretty much lay it all out in the "Space, the final frontier" opening monologue.
- Star Trek Deep Space Nine established itself as a darker Star Trek series by killing off the main character's wife in the opening minutes of the first episode. It wasn't really the death that set the tone, but the way that it was handled.
- Star Trek Enterprise opened with a Klingon crashing landing on Earth in a rural farm with the farmer coming out with something that looks like a cross between a laser rifle and a lever action shotgun, establishing the Prequel nature and Twenty Minutes in The Future setting compared to the other series.
- Of the Holy Shit Quotient variety, the pilot of Heroes, particularly the scene wherein Claire is seen being videotaped throwing herself off a crane and hitting the ground with a splat. She gets up and promptly pops all her broken bones back into place. She then looks directly into the camera and says evenly, "My name is Claire Bennett, and that was attempt number 6." In fact the scene was so iconic, that when her friend who was videotaping gets Mindwiped, it's used as a callback.
- In the pilot of Twenty Four, the same slutty ditzy chick who banged a photographer on a cross-country flight suddenly puts on a pressure suit with a parachute, sets a bomb, and blows a hole into the plane before jumping out. Seconds later the bomb destroys the plane completely. That scene sums up the thriller, Anyone Can Die, Plot Twist nature of the show that will be 24.
- The ante gets upped in season 2 as it's first scene is a man being tortured only to reveal that his torturers are trying to get information of a terrorist attack out of him, thus establishing the show's Black and Gray Morality.
- The opening scenes of the pilot episode of Miami Vice feature the lead characters "in their native environment" so to speak. In New York, Tubbs heads into a nightclub with the intent to assassinate a Colombian guy, but is nearly killed in the process. After the credits roll, we see Crockett his partner making small talk about home life before they head off to a meet a drug dealer. All this happens before the two guys meet and before even the audience knows that both men are in fact police detectives. The good guys being bad guys to catch the bad guys nature of the show, along with it's use of Music Video techniques is firmly established. Also counts as Establishing Character Moment.
- The first five minutes of Firefly are an Establishing Character Moment for Mal. The next five minutes serve as an Establishing Series Moment, showing the humour, excitement, and focus on character interaction the series has.
- Xena: Warrior Princess using some serious Wire Fu on the bad guys showed just how Crazy Awesome her show was gonna be compared to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
- In the first screen of I Wanna Be the Guy, whichever path you take, the game kills you lightning quick once. When you think you've figured out the pattern of the obstacle, be it spike wall or Delicious Fruit, and even pass one or two of them, the game suddenly reverses its behavior on the next one, killing you, and you can just imagine it laughing at you thinking you had it figured out. This is the iconic moment of the game, the fruit falling up and killing you.
- Disgaea sets its tone with this line at the end of the first chapter:
Laharl: Who gives a damn about you? Your new name is "Mid-boss."
- The opening video of the first Left 4 Dead contains every single bit of gameplay you needed to know when the game was released (updates added a few tweaks here and there). Things ranging from 'when you fall, you can keep on shooting with your pistol' to 'don't shine a light in a witch's eyes' to 'you can shut a door on zombies to hold them off a while'.
- Before the gameplay begins in Metal Wolf Chaos, a cutscene shows Metal Wolf, piloted by President Micheal Wilson, jumping out of the Oval Office in a firey explosion, shouting in glorious, cheesy Engrish.
Micheal: "OKAY, LET'S PARTY!"
- Prince of Persia The Warrior Within establishes itself as Darker and Edgier than The Sands of Time by the Prince yelling "You bitch!" after getting slashed in the face by Shahdee.
- The Ace Attorney series begins with Phoenix getting a case to defend one of his old friends. Upon his introduction, the friend, Larry Butz, has a comically melodramatic reaction to his girlfriend's death and proceeds to not do a very good job of testifying about his actions when called to the stand. This gives you some idea of what kind of people you'll be dealing with in the series.
- The introduction to No More Heroes begins with the fourth wall-breaking "I know a lot of gamers out there don't have much patience," before Travis talks about his status as an Otaku entered into a deathmatch. This gives some idea of who Travis is supposed to represent and how seriously the game takes itself.
- The prologue of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night seems to establish that the game will be more of the same. When it truly begins, gamers see the new hero Alucard running at high speed and jumping the draw bridge before it closes, establishing that this Castlevania favors fast paced action instead of the clunky platforming of its predecessors.
- The first Command and Conquer starts with someone watching TV about the tiberium infestation before settling on a soap opera, as a sign of the game's cheesiness.
- Metroid begins like any other side scroller until Samus hits a dead end and can only progress by going through a small hole. The player then realizes the morph ball power up to make this possible is found on the left side of the screen. Non linear gameplay is revealed as a quintessential part of this franchise.
- In Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story, the first scene involves John Rook introducing himself to his class, while his students discuss him online.
- In Katawa Shoujo, Hisao, on his first day at Yamaku, gets shown around the school by his Class Representative, who turns out to be deaf. He has the option to ask her a few questions, one of which is about her deafness, showcasing that the game is largely about treating disabled people as people.
- Eight Bit Theater takes a while to really find its feet, with the first few comics being fairly bland and generic jokes. This strip contains the first use of 'distressingly logical stupidity' that the strip would become known for.
- Princess Pi begins with the eponymous character dueling Godzilla. Soon, the Statue of Liberty shows up and vanquishes the monster, and the series' weirdness truly begins.
- The first story arc of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja involves Doc fighting a child who has turned into Paul Bunyan. It only goes up from there...
- Remus features a suicide attack on the White House on the first page. Things deteriorate considerably from there.
- The very first strip of Ansem Retort had Axel torching an orphanage. It went downhill from there.
- This strip of Kevin and Kell is the first indicators that animals in that world act out their natural roles as predator and prey, as well as indicating how taboo the eponymous couple's marriage is.
- Sam and Max Freelance Police uses this, by showing various insane or weird scenarios, as if the intro didn't convince the viewers "This show is nuts".
- The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy sets its tone in the first episode when Grim tries without success to frighten Billy and Mandy.
Grim: Look! Aren't you two scared?! Boo! Blah! (no reaction from either Billy or Mandy) Oh come on! I'm a walking skeleton! Isn't that scary?!
- Transformers Prime starts off with a conversation between Cliffjumper and Arcee, then a fight with Decepticons where Cliffjumper fights them alone, doing well, then he's captured, and unceremoniously murdered by Starscream, to kickstart the Darker and Edgier tone the series is going for.
- The My Little Pony pilot has around 3 minutes of tooth-rotting, stomach churning cuteness with the pastel Adult Child ponies.. Then demonic dragons come in and scoop several ponies while a storm suddenly appears. This sets the "Everything Trying to Kill You" tone of G1, which often revolved around the ponies saving Dream Valley from some sort of evil while also being goofy and cute on the side.
- The latest incarnation of the show does this in the opening minutes, both via NASM-esque plot exposition, and a more direct reference to its immediate predecessor in the opening theme (Twilight's descent in the balloon mirror's G3 Pinkie Pie's...then a rainbow dashes right through the clouds, while the song changes to a rocking Show, Don't Tell approach).
- ThunderCats (2011), pulls a neat bait-and-switch, in "Omens Part One" lovingly displaying an Epic Tracking Shot of Thundera over The Obi-Wan Jaga's Opening Monologue speaking of the place as The Kingdom and a Shining City...after a brief Establishing Shot, the camera tilts downward to reveal extensive slums, and a group of Catfolk muggers beating a hapless Dogfaces.