aka: Ducks In A Row
A series introduces the main cast by adding them one at a time in sequential episodes, chapters, and/or story arcs. Usually a tactic by writers to get everyone collected before having any real plot started, and the audience feels they can start paying attention. Also a cheap way to ensure that everyone's relationship to the lead has equal history. Sometimes followed by Green Rooming. Can be especially annoying in things like Twelve-Episode Anime series if the cast has more than four people. Extremely common with Bishoujo Series and Unwanted Harems. Even more common in computer games (namely, RPGs), with many such games introducing a new party member in each area, some even going so far as to have an obvious number of "slots" that are going to be filled up by the end of the game. The next step to a Debut Queue system is the Character Magnetic Team. Contrast You ALL Share My Story. May involve a Second Episode Introduction. If the characters are all present in early episodes but are given characterisation episode-by-episode, see A Day in the Limelight. Also see Arbitrarily Serialized Simultaneous Adventures for video games which begin by giving each character in the party their own level. Characters introduced by Debut Queue may also fall under Hitchhiker Heroes.
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Anime and Manga
- In the first season of Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury shows up in the eighth episode, Sailor Mars in episode ten, Jupiter in episode 25, and Sailor Venus, the last of the Inner Senshi who the rest of the series focuses on, in episode 33.
- In the original OVA version of Tenchi Muyo!, we (and Tenchi) meet Ryoko in the first episode, Ayeka and Sasami in the second, Mihoshi an episode or so after that, and Washuu in the sixth installment. Other versions of Tenchi compress this process, with the cycle of meetings becoming shorter and shorter until they all happen in one fell swoop in Shin Tenchi Muyo.
- In the One Piece anime, we meet Luffy and Nami in the first episode (though Nami doesn't join up with Luffy until episode 8, and was not introduced in the manga until the start of the Buggy arc). Zoro appears at the end of the premiere episode, meets Luffy in the second episode, and joins Luffy's crew as the first member in episode 3. Nami promises to tag along after the events of the Buggy Arc but isn't a fully-fledged member of the crew until the Arlong Park Arc completes. Usopp joins in episode 17 (along with the acquisition of the Going Merry), Sanji joins in episode 30, and Tony Tony Chopper and Nico Robin join in episodes 91 and 130, respectively. Franky joins in episode 322, following events that caused Robin to become a true companion, Usopp to leave the crew but later apologize and come back, and the Going Merry to meet her demise, so Franky builds the Thousand Sunny. Brook joins in 381, in a hilariously perfunctory fashion. Vivi seems like a shoe-in to join, but ends up not doing so after well over a year as a major character, then decides to remain in Alabasta. It's debatable whether any characters past Sanji count since major plots already happen after that point. And others who had already joined have significant backstory-related arcs play out which cement them as members.
- Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, which was Macekred into the third section of Robotech does this with the real cast, after introducing and wiping out an entire separate cast in its first episode, with only the series protagonist surviving.
- Cowboy Bebop gets the cast together rapid-fire, with Spike and Jet already established as together in episode #1, Ein joining in episode #2, Faye in #3 (kinda — she deserts at the end, but is back for good by #4), then a brief lag until Ed joins in #9.
- Sgt. Frog has the frogs appearing one by one over the first 13 episodes. When the last frog, Dororo, appears only a few episodes after Kururu, Aki notes that someone like that shouldn't appear until "volume seven" — and, indeed, in the manga, that's when Dororo showed up.
- Tokyo Mew Mew: The team meets Zakuro AKA Renee (their last member) in the 10th episode, but she doesn't join until the next. 4Kids, in order to get the kiddies to know everyone ASAP, premiered with the 12th episode.
- Gintama spends an entire season as a Debut Queue in flashbacks after an In Medias Res Pilot.
- Ai Yori Aoshi spends the first several episodes simply developing the backstory and relationship between Aoi and Kaoru, then slowly begins adding the other characters over the course of the first season.
- We're introduced to almost all the recurring characters in Love Hina in the first few minutes of the first episode, but Shinobu and Motoko only get a minute or so of screen time, just enough to set them up for their more fully developed introductions in the second and third episodes, respectively.
- Yes! Pretty Cure 5 introduces one new Cure an episode until the full quota of five is met... except it twists it slightly with the last Cure, whose personality flaws cause the Call to reject her, forcing her to use up another episode to learn An Aesop and join for real.
- Smile Pretty Cure! does something similar, but without the Missed the Call part.
- Doki Doki Pretty Cure twists it. The first seen Cure doesn't want to be part of a team. After the other Cures form a team, it takes about two to three episodes and a lot of convincing to get the first Cure to stop being such a cold fish and join up.
- Happiness Charge Pretty Cure is interesting in its Debut Queue: the second Cure we meet doesn't join the main team until the halfway point after a Humiliation Conga. The last Cure shows up in the ninth episode and doesn't join until episode eleven.
- Go! Princess Pretty Cure introduces the first two Cures in the first two episodes. In the third episode, the characters have to search for the third Cure's Transformation Trinket. The third Cure makes her first transformation in the fourth episode, but she gives a Refusal of the Call until episode 5.
- The initial story arc of Bleach did this, introducing the main characters while following an essentially Monster of the Week format with lots of comic relief thrown in. After the basic backstories were squared away and the cast laid out, this entirely changed and the plot became much more serious business, in a move resembling Cerebus Syndrome.
- Samurai 7 did this. Then again, Seven Samurai did it first.
- In Ojamajo Doremi, Hazuki and Aiko both became apprentices in episode 4 (though Hazuki is briefly introduced in the first episode, and Aiko just transferred in episode 3), Doremi's sister Pop joins the team in episode 25 (she was introduced in the first episode as well), and Onpu debuts in episode 35 (but is The Rival Dark Magical Girl until the finale of the first season). Momoko and Hana-chan transform in the first episodes of Motto and Dokkan, respectively...but Hana debuted in Sharp as a newborn.
- Soul Eater has the first three episodes each introducing one of the main weapon/meister sets before the first Arc begins.
- The first two volumes of Get Backers focus on the titular duo and introduce their support staff, but they were kind enough to introduce the other four major characters two by two in back-to-back Story Arcs.
- Pokémon introduces Ash in the first episode, which also features Misty, but she doesn't properly join him until the next. Team Rocket are introduced in Episode 2 and Brock joins the team in Episode 5.
- Ash's party is also introduced in this fashion: Pikachu in Episode 1, Pidgeotto and Caterpie in Episode 3 (of which Caterpie quickly becomes a Butterfree by Episode 4), Bulbasaur in 10, Charmander in 11 and Squirtle in 12.
- Also invoked by the later series as well. In Advanced Generation, we're introduced to Ash and May in episode 1, Max in episode 3 and Brock returns for episode 4. Episode 1 of Diamond and Pearl introduces us to Dawn before bringing Ash and Brock back in episode 2. And Black & White gives us Ash in episode 1, Iris in episode 2 (though she made a brief appearance in episode 1) and Cilan in episode 5.
- As well as again lining up the full team rather quickly—Pidove in episode 2, Oshawott in episode 3, Tepig in episode 4, Snivy in episode 7 (after having a Gym Battle in episodes 5 and 6), and getting the egg for his sixth Pokémon in episode 12.
- In Fushigi Yuugi, the whole beginning plot was pretty much jumpstarted by this - find all the seven Celestial Warriors that are scattered around the empire.
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn! loves this. Pretty much the whole light fluff comedy beginning consisted of introducing a bunch of new characters that try to kill Tsuna. After the Genre Shift, it's still done by introducing the Varia and who Tsuna's guardians are. Even in the latest chapters, it's still introducing more Bishōnen to interest fangirls ( "Let me introduce you to the real six Funeral Wreaths!").
- Yuusha-Oh GaoGaiGar is accused of starting s l o w l y because it took so much time introducing several characters and tools, one at a time, about every other episode. After the final piece was in place, the battle with EI-01 happened and the awesome began.
- Chrono Crusade introduces the main characters this way. Chrono and Rosette (and in the anime, some of the other members of the Order) are introduced in the first chapter/episode. The next arc then follows them saving Azmaria, who later joins them. After that arc is over, a plot triggers flashbacks concerning the Big Bad and introducing Rosette's brother, around whom Rosette and Chrono's main motivations are centered. The gang takes off to find Joshua, and at the start of that arc is when the final main character, Satella, is introduced.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei does this with the students in Itoshiki-sensei's homeroom class. They're all technically members of the class from the beginning, but they each get focus episodes that introduce them to the audience and show off their particular brand of insanity.
- Though some of them, like Kiri, Matoi and Maria (and Nami in the manga) didn't come to class until their debut episodes, and Ai deliberately stayed out of any shots until her debut because she was worried she'd ruin the anime.
- Zoids: Genesis tries to play with this a bit, by making characters take one episode or so to actually join the team, but otherwise is the usual: The series starts with Ruuji, the first episode has Re Mii and Ra Kan (Not that one) appear as somewhat ambiguous figures (Even if the OP ruins this) but are revealed as good guys next episode. Kotona Elegance appears in ep 4 and joins in ep 5, Garaga appears in ep 5 and joins by 6, Ron appears AND joins in 6, even if he doesn't gets his Zoid until ep 9, and then there's a small gap until Seijuurou joins in ep 10.
- Dragon Ball, to varying definitions of "main character" as many of them become Ascended Extras and/or Demoted to Extra. The first episode of the anime introduces Goku, Bulma and the arc's villains. Over the next fourteen episodes Oolong, the Turtle, Master Roshi, Yamcha & Puar, Chi-Chi & the Ox-King, Krillin and Launch are gradually introduced. By the time we get to the portion of the series that comes to mind when people think of Dragon Ball, of course, everyone but Goku, Krillin and Bulma are largely irrelevant.
- Keep in mind though, in the manga Pilaf and co. didn't appear until the heroes were on their way to his castle for the last Dragon Ball.
- Rave Master begings with Haru aquiring Plue. In the next volume (since the first volume all happens around his house) he runs into Elie, and has come across Musica by the end-though it takes another volume for Musica to join.
- InuYasha started this once it was a couple arcs in, acquiring Shippo, Miroku and Sango in that order, and introduced Naraku immediately after Miroku.
- The Digimon series generally introduce one new evolution per episode in arcs where a new type or level of evolution is introduced.
- In Bakemonogatari characters are usually introduced one at a time in own story arcs, after which they become part of the main cast.
- The main girls in Kore wa Zombie desu ka? are introduced this way. In the first episode, main character Ayumu is already living with the necromancer Eucliwood, and is quickly joined by Haruna, a "Masou Shoujo" ('magical-equipment girl'). Vampire-Ninja Seraphim is introduced in the next episode. Mael Strom, the final main girl vying for Ayumu's attention, isn't introduced until halfway through the series.
- In Rosario + Vampire, Moka, Kurumu, Gin, and Yukari each get a chapter/episode dedicated to their introduction, plus a chapter dedicated to them deciding which club to join. Mizore and Ruby followed a bit later.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! introduces the bulk of the characters all at once at the beginning, but inducts them into the primary Cast Herd in this manner. It starts out with Negi and Asuna being the the main characters, and then gradually incorporates more of the class into the overarching plot at the rate of three or four per arc.
- The Four Heavenly Kings in Toriko all get their own introductory arcs within the first season, except for Zebra, who gets his some fifty episodes into the series.
- In Outlaw Star, Gene, Jim and Melfina are introduced in episode 1, Aisha in episode 3 and Sukuza in episode 6.
- John Byrne's Alpha Flight did a variation; all eight team-members were in the first four issues, but after that, each story until #11 was a solo story. #s2-11 ('cept 4) also had back-up features showing the origins of each character.
- This is how the original X-Men got together, but it's only revealed in flashbacks. Professor Xavier recruited Cyclops, who in turn recruited Iceman. Together, they met Angel, and then the Beast. We see Jean Grey join them in their very first issue.
- Samurai 7 did this. Then again, Seven Samurai did it first.
- So it's not too surprising that The Magnificent Seven does it too.
- Stop Making Sense is probably the only concert film that does this. The members of Talking Heads come out one at a time, one person per song, followed by all the backup musicians during the fifth song. At the same time, the stage is being assembled behind them as they play.
- The Wizard of Oz. We don't even have to tell you which order Dorothy meets her traveling companions. You already know.
- Alien vs. Predator: Requiem showed each of the main characters arriving or already in town in short vignettes one after the other. In case you weren't aware these were the main characters, each vignette ends with a zoom to mid-shot for each of them.
- Like its comic namesake mentioned above X-Men: First Class included a sequence in which Charles and Eric traveled around America to gather the other members of the team.
- A particularly prolonged example is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the main characters debut in their own movie each before at last banding together in The Avengers.
- In the movie itself, they're also introduced in this manner with different SHIELD agents going out to recruit them.
- Roland's ka-tet is introduced in this manner in Stephen King's The Dark Tower. In the first book, we meet Roland, then Jake (who is subsequently lost). In the next book, he's joined by Eddie, then Susannah. In the third book, Jake reappears, and he then adopts Oy.
- Despite being one of the two protagonists of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Will is not introduced until the start of the second book.
- In The Belgariad David Eddings uses Debut Queue quite skillfully, using three books out of five to get them all lined up (The last duck doesn't join up until the final pages of Magician's Gambit.)
- And he does it again in its sequel The Mallorean, where the last duck is only confirmed in the second half of the last book (though she was introduced in another form earlier in the series).
- Dave Barry's novels Big Trouble and Tricky Business introduce all of the primary characters in the first chapters before their plot threads start to (insanely) intertwine.
- The Railway Series utilized this novel by novel for engines, each one getting an entire spotlight book to themselves (though some would make a quick introduction in another's before having a more developed one in their own). This was repeated in the Thomas the Tank Engine Animated Adaptation, which ran most of the novel's stories in order of their appearance.
- After the first chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory establish Charlie, his family, and the Backstory of Wonka's Factory, the Golden Ticket contest is announced. Over the next few chapters the bratty kids who find the first four tickets (and their respective parents) are each introduced in turn. Then Charlie finds the final ticket, everyone gathers for the tour, and Willy Wonka himself finally appears "onstage". The remainder of the book has a departure queue going on as each brat eliminates themselves from the tour one by one! In the 2013 stage musical adaptation, this trope is even more pronounced as the introductions to the brats come in the form of four consecutive I Am Songs / Phony Newscasts, each staged in a giant television set that Charlie and his family are watching.
Live Action TV
- In Doctor Who, this is the way the Doctor picks up companions. Randomly lands somewhere, finds someone half-sensible who doesn't die by the end of the story, and then invites them along to travel with him. Usually you can predict when this will happen, due to the fact that a previous companion has just left, but sometimes it can be a little more random.
- Blake's 7 did this with the original seven: Blake meets Vila and Jenna at the end of the first episode, Avon and Gan in episode two, Zen in episode three and Cally in episode four. It was repeated on a smaller scale with the new regulars in the third season, with Dayna being introduced in the first episode but Tarrant not until the second.
- Nathan Spring has a similar introduction to his officers in Star Cops, meeting David Theroux in episode one, Colin Devis in episode two, Pal Kenzy in episode three (although she had a cameo in episode one), base commander Alexander Krivenko in episode four and Anna Shoun in episode six.
- LOST did a variation: the episode "Confirmed Dead" introduced a character of the "rescue team" (although one appeared in the previous episode finale) in each act.
- The first sixteen episodes of Kamen Rider Den-O follow a pretty obvious trend: a two-parter introducing an Imagin, followed by a two-parter to establish his personality and skills, followed by a two-parter introducing a new Imagin...
- The same can be said for the Kamen Rider Club in Kamen Rider Fourze. The club starts out with three members. All of them are shown as early as the first episode, but the other main characters don't join until their A Day in the Limelight (a two-parter each), up to episode 10. The Second Rider, Meteor, gets introduced in 16, joins the club the next episode as a False Friend, but only becomes a full-pledged member (i.e. he starts being more friendly) in episode 32.
- Power Rangers RPM had an interesting variation, in that newcomers were introduced in the premiere and then everyone, old and new alike, (except the one with Laser-Guided Amnesia, who was the focus of the premiere anyway) had a flashback episode explaining their origins. Strangely, this meant that the newcomer characters were focused on before the original ones were.
- A variation appears at the beginning of the fourth season of Farscape. The gang had split up at the end of the third season, and they only rejoin the crew two or three at a time over the course of the first four episodes. This wouldn't normally be an example, since all of the characters were already known to viewers - except that the creators have explicitly said that they invoked this trope in order to provide new viewers with a gradual introduction to the characters and their relationships.
- At the beginning of the first season of Colditz Pat Grant, Simon Carter and Dick Player get an episode each to introduce them and show their escape attempts from other camps. Phil Carrington and Colonel Preston are introduced in episode 4, along with Colditz Castle itself. Finally the German security officer, Hauptmann Ulmann is introduced in episode 5.
- The Chieftains do this on their self-titled debut album. As noted in the original liner notes: "The first section has, in fact, been designed to introduce each of the players and the instruments they play." So the album starts off with "Sé Fáth mo Bhuartha"" (with Paddy Malone and Seán Potts playing tin whistles) then "The Lark on the Strand" (with Michael Tubriry on flute, David Fallon on bodhrán, and Martin Fay on fiddle), then "An Fhallaingín Mhuimhneach" (with Michael Tubriry on concertina), and finally "Trim the Velvet" (with Paddy Maloney on Uilleann pipes).
- Done with U.S. Acres. Orson debuts first, then Roy, then Sheldon and Booker, then Wade, then Lanolin and Bo, then finally Cody and Blue. Interestingly, the latter four appear on the back cover of the first book, although the first strips with them aren't until the second book.
- Multi-character games in general do this. Final Fantasy in particular ever since 4. You typically get half the cast or so in the first section of the game and then the rest are spread over the midgame.
- Final Fantasy VI deserves special mention for essentially doing the Debut Queue twice: once in the World of Balance, and again (in a different order) when reassembling your scattered party in the World of Ruin. On top of that, it has the largest cast in the main series (14 playable characters in all), so a fairly big portion of the game ends up being entirely dedicated to this trope.
- Knights of the Old Republic goes so far as to have silhouettes of EVERYONE that will join the party just after the start of the game.
- So does Jade Empire.
- There is a slight aversion, however, in that, unlike KOTOR, you may not actually recruit every character shown on the silhouette screen. In fact, two of the characters, Chai Ka and Ya Zhen are mutually exclusive after a certain point in the game. A third one, Abbot Song, is only available for a short time, during which you don't have access to your other followers.
- BioWare loves this trope for their RPGs, because it pops up again in Dragon Age: Origins. You can meet each of the playable characters in sequence. Depending on what order you choose for visiting certain areas, though, you can dodge this trope.
- The first stage of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves occurs chronologically right before the final stage, showcasing (albeit in Sound Only mode) all of the new characters (well, new except for two who were originally villains!) and their skills: everything in between explains how Sly assembled his A-Team, one stage at a time.
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl - The Subspace Emissary introduces all the characters like this, even flashing their names on the screen in a freeze frame as they appear.
- This is done in Elite Beat Agents, and for the climactic final character, essentially everybody in the game (except for those in the fourth chapter) gathers together to help the EBA fight against an army of aliens.
- In Mass Effect 1, each new squadmate is met as Commander Shepard trucks down the main plot and runs into them. They all have a short bit of characterization showing their personality and/or badassery before they join up, with the exception of Kaidan Alenko, who is with you from the get-go.
- In Dragon Quest IV, you spend a chapter with each playable character (or a small team of them) other than the hero before you get to do anything significant with the hero. Then you get to collect their companions in the exact reverse order that you played through their chapters (so you get Chapter 4's Meena and Maya first, and Chapter 1's Ragnar McRyan last.
- Fire Emblem games have a habit of giving you a new character or two... or three or four... each chapter.
- The Sakura Wars series does this every time. Even in the second game it introduces the two new characters in a chapter each.
- In Baldur's Gate II you gather Imoen, Minsc, Jaheira and Yoshimo all in the same dungeon, once at a time and all in a row.
- Touhou has the stage 5 bosses (typically the Battle Butler of the Big Bad) typically undergo Defeat Means Friendship and join up as the third (or fourth) heroine in the next game, although they frequently drop out after a game or two, just because there seems to be an upper limit on the number of shot and bomb types that will be used per game.
- Vandal Hearts does this too. You start with Ash, Clint and Diego. You quickly meet an NPC ally and two villains, then gather four characters in three battles. Three more join in chapter 2, and two more in chapter 3 to round out the cast. Much the same happens in the sequel.
- Chrono Trigger: Begins by introducing Crono, Marle, and then Lucca. After that, Robo, Frog and Ayla join after a dungeon where they're a Required Party Member. (Frog and Ayla have a dungeon each long before their recruitment, and another when they're about to join for real. Magus will join you so long as you refuse to fight him).
- El Goonish Shive starts out with Elliot and Tedd in the first strip and Sarah makes her first full appearance in the third strip. Grace first appears in the third storyline and Justin and Nanase in the eighth storyline. Susan debuts in the first storyline of the second arc and Ellen in the arc's fifth storyline rounding out the main cast at eight. Since then there have been several characters that could be considered at most as supporting characters but the number of main characters have stayed at eight.
- ARCHON's first few parts are this, introducing one or two characters then taking the time to explore them before introducing another few.
- Sonichu takes the first few issues to introduce entire chunks of characters based on their Cast Herd as seen in the introductions in Issue 0. Issue 0 introduced the essential characters, Issue 1 introduced Sonichu's Evil Twin, Issue 2 introduced the three Self Insert Sonichus, Slaweel, and Count Graduon and Issue 3 introduced both the Chaotic Combo and Flame.
- Most Transformers series does this. Heck, in Beast Wars, new cast members do, in fact, fall from the sky, generally in stasis pods. The upside of this is twofold: one, it makes introducing new product go down smoother and easier; and two, if there's any race in the universe that knows how to make an entrance, it's the Transformers.
- With Transformers Armada, it was more that "reinforcements" for both sides were either late to the party or weren't summoned until later. Apparently Megatron thought he could handle things with three mediocre soldiers and Optimus with two.
- The Five Episode Pilots of DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers revealed the main characters throughout the episodes. In each case, only the original main characters (Scrooge and his nephews, Chip and Dale) were featured in the very first episode, with the other characters appearing later on in the stories.
- The first five episodes of X-Men Evolution are almost solely devoted to this, generally with both the X-Men and the rival Brotherhood recruiting a new member in each episode (mainly the Brotherhood, as we can see). In order: Nightcrawler and Toad in "Strategy X", Shadowcat and Avalanche in "X-Impulse", Rogue in "Rogue Recruit" (though she was mostly detached from the Brotherhood, and joined the X-Men in the seventh episode), Blob in "Mutant Crush" and Spyke and Quicksilver in "Speed and Spyke".
- The computer-animated show Shadow Raiders, this is rather conspicuous. The main character and the plot-driving character are introduced in the first episode, along with a couple more important characters. Then, within the span of five episodes, you've seen everyone of note. If the character wasn't introduced in the first five episodes, they're cannon fodder.
- If you don't count the micro-episodes, which merely established several character arcs, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes does this. Six episodes were spent gathering eight superheroes together to become the Avengers (and that's not counting Ms. Marvel and Vision, who join the team later on). Meanwhile, enemies of the heroes also gathered together, to become the Masters of Evil.
- The first five five-minute episodes of Egmont's stop-mo series Little People based on Fisher-Price toys, collected on the Friendship Collection DVD, introduce Eddie (and Freddie and Sarah Lynn), Maggie, Sonya Lee, and Farmer Jed respectively.
- The pilot episode of Futurama introduces Fry, Leela, Bender and Prof. Farnsworth. The remaining regulars - Hermes, Amy and Zoidberg - don't appear until the second episode.
- Most of the major recurring characters are introduced over the course of the first season in episodes where they take center stage: Zapp, Kif, and Nibbler in episode 4; Mom and her sons in episode 6; Professor Wernstrom in episode 8; and the Omincronians in episode 12.