When you are writing a work of fiction you often want the audience to know how what is came to be. Often this is achieved by in the first episodes or issues but almost as often, for whatever reason, this can't happen. Perhaps the character was originally meant to be mysterious, a figure robed in secrets and mystique and now their past has emerged. Alternatively the writers might not have had an origin laid out for them, perhaps due to the fact that they were meant as a minor character who gained a fanbase
or were simply a Monster of the Week
that happened to come back once or twice. Or it could be that the thing without the background is more than just a character, perhaps the entire universe has a history that the author wants to get across, and there is no way of doing that at the same time that a first episodes finds its audience.
An origins episode is an episode, issue, chapter, or a multi-part story arc that exists primarily to examine the origin of a character or setting after the work has been going for a while. Many prequels qualify, but not all. Likewise whilst many things have had extended flashbacks it does not necessarily count. However the episode or issue need not be all set in the universe's past to qualify, so long as exploring that past in the point. Done well these works help build the universe's mythos and continuity; done badly they just feel like the author trying to show how clever they are. Worse still are the origins episodes where the writer does not bother to check their own continuity and creates a mess of plot holes and poor characterization.
Compare with a Pilot Episode
, which usually sets up the origins of the main characters and setting in the first episode. Television characters can have an Origin Episode of sorts if they receive A Day in the Limelight
or a Lower Deck Episode
. See also Start of Darkness
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Anime and Manga
- Bleach anime
- Episode 32 "Stars and the Stray" told the story of Rukia Kuchiki's origin, as remembered by Renji Abarai.
- Episode 97 explains how the Bount were created. Soul Reapers were carrying out a project to create immortal souls and an experiment got away from them, causing a number of human beings to become the Bount.
- During the Zanpakutō: The Alternate Tale arc, Koga's origin story was told in episodes 250 and 251.
- The "Teresa of the Faint Smile" arc of Claymore tells Clare's origin.
- There was quite a big arc in the manga of Fullmetal Alchemist explaining Hoenheim and Homonculous' origins.
- Not long after the starting chapters, the story also flashes back to how Ed and Al ended up in their situation.
- The last chapter in the fourth volume of Hidamari Sketch—one of the few not in yonkoma format—was spent on explaining the origins of Natsume's tsundere attitude towards Sae.
- The tenth episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is dedicated to Homura's backstory, finally explicitly explaining her mysterious powers, behavior, and motivations.
- One Piece has a rather odd one starting how Luffy got his powers and his inspiration to be a pirate in the first chapter. A couple of story arcs down the line and a flashback arc fleshes it out a bit more showcasing further motivation to why he does what he does. The rest of the crew stories are told individually as we either first meet then or they're on the verge of joining soon.
- It's not until near the end of Anatolia Story that Urhi's Tear Jerker of a backstory is revealed, along with why he's so loyal to Nakia.
- Pretty much every character in Fruits Basket has at least one flashback showing a significant moment that lead to them being the way they are. Most notable are the flashbacks of how Kyoko ended up meeting and marrying Katsyua and how Akito's mother got married to her father and manipulated him into raising Akito as a boy.
- During Burst Angel, after many episodes of fighting the villain of the week, the final four episodes are dedicated to Jo's origins, mainly episode 23.
- Lupin III, in possession of Negative Continuity, has a weird relationship with introduction episodes, prequels, and Character Development.
- Lupin III (Green Jacket) was the first series adapted from the manga. It explains where the Zantetsuken comes from, as well as why Goemon joins the gang.
- Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is the origin story for Fujiko Mine specifically, but also tells the story of how Lupin and Jigen meet. Inside the series is also an Origins Episode for Oscar, telling how Zenigata found him, and took care of him.
- Lupin III Episode 0 First Contact is yet another Origins episode, telling the story of how Everyone meets everyone, and how Goemon finds the 'Zantetsuken''.
- Strange Psychokinetic Strategy is the tale of Jigen finding Lupin III after Lupin II died, and Lupin discovering the beautiful Fujiko.
- Donna Troy sets the record for the sheer number of these. A character created by author miscommunication, (someone put Wonder Girl in Teen Titans not realizing her earlier appearances were teenage Wonder Woman in the past) she had to have her origin told after the fact. But no two writers seem to agree on what it should be, and by now she is nigh unusable the question "who the hell is she?" is now unanswerable. Every attempt to fix it just tosses another Retcon on the already-enormous pile. However, the last Cosmic Retcon has left the slate blank for single origin to be established, and stick. We haven't re-met her to know which one it'll be.
- ElfQuest T.O.S. #13: "The Secret of the Wolfriders"
- Judge Dredd has had two very well received ones. First was Judge Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend, commissioned for the launch of the Judge Dredd Megazine. In it Judge Death employs a journalist to interview him and spread his message, to explain to the people of the world why they are better off dead. Death was a creepy little boy. Later there was Origins to mark the 30th anniversary of Judge Dredd where Dredd explains the secrets and history of the Dredd universe (straightening up the continuity along the way) whilst on a mission to recover something that might unravel those secrets.
- X-Men: The Wolverine Origin comic. And The Movie, for that matter.
- DC Comics had an entire series, Secret Origins, in which each issue was an Origins Issue for a different character (either one who had never been given a proper origin in their own series, or an established character for whom DC wanted to establish a new baseline origin following a Continuity Snarl or similar problem).
- Likewise, Marvel's Uncanny Origins.
- The Phantom Stranger had four of these in the same issue, all contradicting each other.
- Strontium Dog had two long-running stories in this vein: "Portrait of a Mutant" examined Johnny's early life, his time in the mutant resistance, and how he eventually took up bounty hunting; it was framed as Johnny telling Wulf and the Gronk why he's so eager to claim the small bounty on Nelson Bunker Kreelman. "Max Bubba", framed as Wulf's reminiscenses, told the story of how Johnny and Wulf first met and teamed up.
- The Astérix book How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion.
- The focus of "Zero Month" in The New 52.
- In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fic A History Of Magic, Chapter 12 gives one for Walpurgisnacht.
- Futari Wa Pretty Cure Blue Moon: Though the plot moves on as the episodes go, there are episodes centered around the backstory of various characters and how they affect the present.
- The Doctor Who/The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists fanfic An Adventure With Aliens also functions as the story of how Strax and the Doctor first met.
- The Pony POV Series has the fittingly-titled Origins Arc, which goes into detail the previously hinted at backstory of Discord and the Princesses, where they came from, and how they came to be in Equestria.
- And this was immediately preceded by the Generational Transitions Arc, which explained why Pinkie Pie is so different by revealing that she's the Sole Survivor of the G3 universe, which the Alicorns and Draconnequi erased.
- Shadows Awakening: Chapter 11 is primarily The Phantom's Start of Darkness — showing how he went from an ordinary warrior to leader of the Shadowkhan to the vengeance filled shade he is now — shows how Tarakudo took over the Shadowkhan from him, and even reveals how Shendu got his claws on the Ninja Khan mask.
- Chapter 22 of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Reflecting Balance revealed the backstory of one of the three main characters, namely Blitz the Shinx, and why he left his old home.
- This was part of the reason for the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
- The Muppet Movie serves as this for The Muppet Show. Kermit makes clear that some artistic liberties have been taken, especially since early episodes of the show contradict what's shown in the film.
- The Daniel Craig James Bond films appear to serve as these, though they are more of reboots.
- As evident by the titles, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class. (though both works had MASSIVE amounts of Continuity Snarl, specially with each other!)
- Prometheus was originally going to be this for Alien but has since evolved into something else, although there are still connections with the Alien franchise (such as the presence of the Weyland Corporation and androids).
- Prometheus directly deals with the history and purpose of the Space Jockeys.
- An unusual case: The first ten minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade depict a young Boy Scout Indy trying to save a relic from a gang of bandits, which ends up demonstrating the source of his interest in the bullwhip, his fear of snakes, his gift for improvising action, and finally where he got his famous hat. Then George Lucas realized how much fun he had making the sequence, and managed to turn it into a full-on television series: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Live Action TV
- Torchwood has the episodes "Fragments," giving the back-story of how the main team members were recruited to Torchwood.
- LOST has these reasonably often.
- Notably averted in Burn Notice: the made-for-TV-movie "The Fall of Sam Axe" pointedly showed how Sam managed to get his honorable discharge from the Navy SEALs despite his womanizing attitude, but in the timeline of the movie, he already knows Super Spy Michael Westen, seeking advice with his personal problems. Throughout the entire series, it's never been revealed exactly how a CIA spy and a Navy SEAL met and became best friends.
- White Collar episode "Forging Bonds" dedicated to how Neal started his Con Man career with Mozzie, how he met Kate, how Peter started pursuing Neal and how Peter and Neal first met.
- How I Met Your Mother has the episode "How I Met Everyone Else", which showcases how the core group (except Robin, who joined the group in the pilot) met and became friendsnote .
- On Doctor Who it only took 11 years and four Doctors battling the Daleks before we finally got to see how they were created by Davros, after which point he became a recurring villain in Dalek stories.
- The Second Doctor story The War Games finally revealed Gallifrey and the Time Lords, after six years od the Doctor's species being unknown. The Seventh Doctor novel Lungbarrow actually reveals the details behind the Doctor's origin story.
- The X-Files had several origin episodes, including one for the Big Bad ("Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man") and The Lone Gunmen trio ("Unusual Suspects").
- Xena: Warrior Princess had several over the course of the show, showing how she developed from a village girl into an evil Warrior Princess. (She had a Heel-Face Turn during her guest appearances on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys before she got her own show.)
- Community had the aptly titled "Heroic Origins", in which Abed charts the group's connection through random interactions before they all started at Greendale, eventually leading to reveal how they all came to choose the school.
- Chuck eventually showed us the backstory as to how Sara became a CIA operative, starting as a young teen when she was a grifter with her father.
- "Chuck Versus the Tic Tac" reveals Casey's origins: A Marine Corps sniper in Honduras named Alexander Coburn who faked his death to join a special forces unit. Unfortunately, it's left quite a Continuity Snarl that has never really been addressed.
- Highlander had "Family Tree" for Duncan, and for recurring characters, there was "Legacy" for Amanda, "Comes A Horseman" showed Cassandra's origin and there was one for Fitz ("Star Crossed"?).
- Forever Knight: Nick's vampire origin was shown in the pilot, "Dark Knight".
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Angel's origin was first showed in both parts of "Becoming" but Angel elaborated on it in "The Somnamublist".
- The episode "Fool For Love" was Spike's official origin episode. 'Lies My Parents Told Me' gave more details about that origin. And the cross-over episode with Angel that "Fool For Love" was a part of, called "Darla", was the origin episode for, well, Darla.
- The Tribe had two of these in the second season; one focused on Zoot and Ebony; the other focused on Lex and Ryan (though the latter example was submerged as a very long flashback).
- Power Rangers Samurai even went so far as to have its Origins episodes titled "Origins". It probably has something to do with the fact that said episodes were delayed until midseason, instead of being shown at the beginning as usual.
- Power Rangers RPM had origin episodes for the Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green Rangers as well as for Dr. K. All ended with them going to or arriving at Corinth (except Green, who had to leave) and don't include how they were selected as Rangers (again, except Green who we already saw acquire his powers.
- Suits episode "Rewind" shows Mike starting using his Photographic Memory to earn money cheating at tests, his friend Trevor start dealing marijuana and Harvey blackmailing Hardman into resignation. Also doubles as a Start of Darkness episode.
- S1 E4 of Misfits has a bit of this, in that it expands on how some of the characters ended up with community service.
- Kamen Rider Double has nearly half their riders be given Origins Episodes, mostly as part of a movie (or in the case of Kamen Rider Eternal, a whole movie).
- The Tales from the Crypt episode "Lower Berth'' provides the odd origin of The Crypt Keeper. An unholy product of the love between a (literal) two-face freakshow attraction, and a 4000 year old mummy.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword explains the origin of the Master Sword; more specifically, how the Master Sword used to be a sentient being and originated as the Goddess Sword. It also explains where Zelda's magical power comes from (she's the reincarnation of the goddess Hylia), and why Link is always reincarnated (he's Hylia's chosen hero)
- Pretty much anything with the subtitle "Origins".
- Rayman Origins
- Oddly enough, excluding Dragon Age: Origins. The "origins" in question are the first act of the game and cover how the main character became a Grey Warden. They have nothing to do with the origin of the setting, any other characters (except possibly Jowan), or the Blight.
- Speaking of Dragon Age: Origins, the DLC campaign Leliana's Song provides an origin story for the eponymous character, which is only alluded to in the game proper.
- Jack's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2 reveals a lot of details on her origin, including ones she wasn't aware of herself.
- Episode 3 of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has this, as the player switches between controlling Miles Edgeworth in the present day situation, and Gregory Edgewroth in his final case, which also happens to be that one where Manfred Von Karma got his first penalty.
- Chapter 4 of Cage in Lunatic Runagate, a side-story Touhou book, tells the story of how Fujiwara no Mokou became immortal.
- The third Metal Gear Solid game revealed the tragic backstory of Big Boss, and showed how he went from an idealistic, somewhat silly hero to the villain of the first game... though the process didn't really finish up until around the fifth game.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, chronologically the first game in the series, mainly delves into the origins of Xehanort and other villains such as Maleficent, Pete, and Organization XIII, but it also briefly shows how Sora, Riku, and Kairi came to be the people they were by the start of the original game.
- The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider serves as this for Lara Croft.
- Despite the major characters of the Masou Kishin series appearing sporadically through the "Classic Timeline" of Super Robot Wars, The Lord of Elemental effectively serves as the prequel detailing how each character arrived in the subterranean world of "La Gias" and earned the right to become a Herald of the Elemental Lords.
- Castlevania has Lament of Innocence, which explains the origins of Dracula and the Belmont clan's feud with him.
- The Homestar Runner short "Hremail 7" explains the origin of Strong Bad Email. And, in the process, messes up what little continuity the HR-verse has.
- The Shut Up Cartoons segment Oishi High School Battle has Oishi Orgins, or, as the title says, Oishi High School Battle Orgins. Oishi Orgins explains several things, such as how Oishi's father got fired (like the intro song says) and how Oishi got her dog Noodles. (Which was due to the creature transporter machine going haywire after a demon attack, thus resulting in this event.)
- Gargoyles has both this and a conventional first episode origins set up. The first five episodes established the main characters (heros and villains) and their situation. Later MacBeth was introduced, and they then combined a multi-episode arc with telling the origin of MacBeth (he really is Macbeth) and his history with Demona.
- Five Episode Pilots were a staple of Disney television animation in the 80s and 90s, with the pilot movies showing how all of the characters came together. Some characters (such as GizmoDuck) would be introduced and receive their specific origin stories later in their respective series.
- Darkwing Duck received several origin stories throughout the run of his series. YMMV on whether or not this was an intentional spoof of the tangled origins of superheroes in the comics the series often parodied.
- The Powerpuff Girls Movie didn't originally set out for this—the first story pitch was to have been all of the show's main villains fighting with each other over who will rule Townsville. Creator Craig McCracken found it left little screen time for the girls themselves, so it became an origin story and their haphazard first adventure.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Storm" gives the backstories of Aang and Zuko via Flash Back.
- This was the plot point of the Aladdin episode "Seems Like Old Crimes", which focused on Aladdin telling everyone the story of how he and Abu first met, long before the events of the first movie.
- Teen Titans avoids the heroes' non-hero lives, and starts with the team already established, but an origin story appears near the end of the series, covering the team's first meeting.
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the direct-to-movie origin episode of the Bat in the Batman: The Animated Series canon.
- Code Lyoko had a special double-episode prequel titled XANA's Awakening that narrate how everything started.
- The third Recess movie (And second Direct-to-Video movie), Recess: All Growed Down featured an origins story of how the gang all met.
- Kim Possible 'A Sitch In Time' shows the backstory of how Kim and Ron met and the first mission that started their careers as crimefighters.
- Ironically, their first mission was because of a typo, so you might say it was destiny that led to them becoming heroes.
- The Venture Bros.' "The Invisible Hand of Fate" revealed the start of Billy and Pete's friendship and Phantom Limb becoming a supervillain.
- The World Of Quest episode "The Fall of Odyssia" explores how the eponymous Quest came to the service of the royal court — specifically, becoming Nestor's nanny for life.
- The season four premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic serves as one for the Elements of Harmony.