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What? You want to know my secret origins? Well...maybe another time...
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.
- The tenth episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is dedicated to Homura's backstory, finally explicitly explaining her mysterious powers, behavior, and motivations.
- 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.
- 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.
- Many fans of Donna Troy feel that she has had too many of these.
- Elf Quest 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.
- This was part of the reason for the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
- The Muppet Movie serves as this for The Muppet Show, though Kermit makes clear that some artistic liberties have been taken.
- 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 and how the xenomorphs came into being.
- 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 has an episode dedicated to 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 friends.
- 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.
- A group of Cybermen from a parallel universe (no real relation from the ones that appeared before from the Doctor's universe) have their origins in the two-parter "Rise of the Cybermen" / "The Age of Steel".
- 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 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.)
- 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.
- 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 'Becoming part 1 and 2' 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).
- 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.
- Prior to that, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed the Start of Darkness for Ganon, the series Big Bad; and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap had the creation of the Four Sword from the, well, "Four Swords" games, and like the Master Sword originally went by a different name (in this case, the Picori Blade), and although it's part of the backstory, The Minish Cap also explains Vaati's Start of Darkness (and shows that he wasn't always a floating Faceless Eye).
- Pretty much anything with the subtitle "Origins".
- 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 swithces 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.
- 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.
- On the Origin of PC's and Start of Darkness for Order of the Stick
- Oddly, Mr. Mighty's wife, Jane, got to tell her origin story before Mr. Mighty did. Then again, maybe the author just enjoyed drawing all those Stripperiffic outfits.
- The Shaker Woods story arc in Yehuda Moon and The Kickstand Cyclery, which makes everything look Harsher in Hindsight.
- The origin novel for Phase didn't come out until about four years after the Whateley Universe started.
- 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.
- 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.
- Marshall and Ted met in college, Lily and Marshall met when she was "inexplicably drawn" to his dorm room one morning, Barney and Ted met in the bathroom at a bar, and Barney and Marshall met at the same bar some time later