So here’s a fair warning: My blog is extremely condescending. I am extremely condescending. This post? Even I’m finding it condescending. Read forward at your own risk.
A bit of a lightweight compared to our last milestone post, but with the moving, my lack of blogging, etc, yeah. This is the main reason I haven’t begun the Autumn 14 season in earnest yet.
So, let’s address one of the mainstays of the anime fan: The Three Episode Rule.
If you haven’t heard of it, oh mysterious anime viewer who is involved enough with the community to scour small time anime blogs on wordpress that focus on small, current run series without name recognition but NOT community savvy enough to know one its staples, the Three Episode Rule (TER) is the idea that, at the beginning of a season, you don’t really know what is gold waiting to be mined and what is shit on a stick. And pilots can be misleading, due to story issues, budget overblowing to attract you, and trailer editors are meanspirited nazis who exist to make the Smurfs look like the Bourne Identity. Thus, in order to better gauge a series when first trying it out, you don’t judge it too soon in case you miss a gem, but wait until the third episode to make up your mind. The blogging sphere is full of people’s seasonal updates after the third episode.
In my opinion…it’s nonsense.
At best, the TER is like a stopgap you use for someone until they become sophisticated. Like, say, the way we often explain transgender individuals as being “a woman trapped in a man’s body/man trapped in a woman’s body”.
If you have the barest of scientific knowledge regarding sexuality and hormones, or taken one semester of a gender studies course your girlfriend at the time said would be bonding but the two of you broke up halfway through the semester and it’s too late after the academic withdrawal period so now you’re barely paying attention enough not to fail and drag down your GPA…
Point is, if you’ve ever had to examine the issues involved, the biological, sociological, or political, it is abundantly clear that that lie is NOTHING like the truth. It isn’t. It’s far, far too complicated to explain that way. BUT WE DO IT because Liza Jane from the South Will Rise Again rally in suburban South Carolina Soccermomsville simply doesn’t have the intellectual maturity to approach the topic, so we dumb it down as a stopgap until later when, maybe, hopefully, our hick here will be more receptive to the information regarding it, now that they THINK they’re enlightened.
Similarly, like how the information on the internet runs like “a series of tubes” to deliver its multitudes of data to the corners of the earth. The internet is NOT a series a tubes, but the expression is a convenient metaphor to try and explain to someone of a youth-challenged generation why, say, not having enough IP addresses is a problem. Or why data caps are fucking balls and are you KIDDING ME THAT’S STILL A THING, MIAMI? YOU FUCKHOLES MADE ME GO TO AT&T BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY PLACE WITHOUT THEM? 100 BUCKS FOR 100GB A MONTH, WHAT KIND OF LANDLINE IS THAT?!?! ….*cough*
The Three Episode Rule, in my mind, falls under a similar umbrella. It is a useful tool for idiots. It is a guideline, at best, and should never be observed religiously. When someone is first getting into anime and doesn’t fully understand the tropes, the cultural continuity, the style, etc, we say “Okay, try the first three episodes then make up your mind”, like you were explaining it to an eight year old. But once someone is comfortable to saying they are, definitively, a fan of anime, it’s time to use your mind more judiciously, in my opinion.
Leaving aside the fact that, in my mind, I can’t think of a single series that was “saved” by its third episode, cannot think of a series that hooks SPECIFICALLY on the third episode, nor anything really magic about the 25% marker for the story in any OTHER medium (Read the first 1.75 books in the Harry Potter series if you don’t like it. No really! You CAN’T know you’ll dislike it for good until you do. (Or, using word counts, the second chapter of Goblet of Fire. You’ll never really know if you like Harry Potter until you’ve read THAT FAR, it might get better!)).
Leaving aside ALL that…let’s examine it’s assumptions.
You Can’t Account for Taste
Death Note is an interesting series for this discussion. My sister and I both like it. We enjoy the back and forth, the look of it, the atmosphere. Sure it’s a bit camp but that’s part of the charm.
The TER, however, splits us down the middle. Personally, by the end of the second episode, when L sets Light up into exposing himself, I was hooked. I don’t mean in the sense that my body ached for my fix of Death Note, just that I had decided, me, DataportDoll, on my own, that I was at least going to see how the story ended. They had proven, to me, that they could do interesting things with their concept and that the opening round of the “chess match” was sufficiently thought out to win over my attention.
My sister, on the other hand, became a FAN at episode 7, the Naomi arc. Until then, sure, it was pretty, but it was still, to her, mostly laborious and slow.
In this we show what two different people, with arguably the most controlled circumstances regarding our upbringing and entertainment exposure (we were 21 and 20 at the time), are looking for in their entertainment. I’ve explained many times before on this blog, I am someone who adores concepts. I don’t really get bedazzled by concepts, they’ve all been done, in various forms, the thing I want to see is how THIS SPECIFIC STORY will explore its ideas. In this, my taste in anime is much like a taste in music (an irony as I don’t really give two shits about music). To ME, each story has its unique properties and they catch my attention. But to an outsider, like a total outsider, it all sounds like the same fart noises track after track after track. This will become abundantly clear as the Top Ten fills itself out.
My sister, on the other hand, is a much more casual anime fan, and is (I mean nothing bad by this), out of touch with release schedules and the next big thing. She relies on people like me and word of mouth to point out something interesting, to remind her when Inuyasha: Final Act is finally being released, but her television habits are sparse and more mainstream than my own. She does not finish a series unless she is a true blue fan of it. She stops at Episode 1, or Episode 11, it doesn’t matter to her if its not fun anymore.
And we love the same characters (we’re on Team L both), we like the same twists, we adored the same episodes and rolled our eyes at the same ones. But what makes the apple taste good so early for me, but like trash for her until much later? It’s all a matter of taste, plain and simple.
So there’s really no telling where these things will fall. This is the TER’s first problem.
Seven Episode Rule
In addition to when my sister jumped on the Death Note bandwagon, there’s another series which has a seven episode rule.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.
“Gee, DoubleD, that show appears a lot on your blog.”
Well, yes, and it’s not done yet.
But relevant here, is that Nanoha has another example of the Seven Episode Rule. It didn’t START to get good until then. And even then, it didn’t show its hand until Episode 10. You know, when the supervillain beats the living hell out of her daughter.
…It’s pretty obvious that this is NOT the same series four episodes ago where, “Oh, little kitties found a jewel shard and turned into a magical girl monster! Time to fight it in a consequence-free bubble contest!”
You couldn’t have orchestrated pulling the rug out from under someone any better if they had been IN a rug store with big Turkish guys going “Let us pulls on something to strength train!”
Nanoha is one of my favorites, and I would never have known by adhering to the TER.
And I think this is demonstrated when, in the movie recap of the first season, those first six episodes? They are gone. Just varnished over beyond the obligatory introduction of the characters. Aside from that it dives straight into the Precia/Fate plot.
If Not Number, Then What?
I think there are several reasons people propose, and follow, the TER.
Take a look at my own experience with Sakura Trick. I would have never predicted that I would enjoy it. Tolerate it, “that’s cute”, but not outright enjoy it to the point where I’m recommending it. I think its series like this that incline people to say “try everything”, and the TER exists as a way to enforce that “open-mindedness”. Go to the WordPress reader and look for the “first quarter” or “three episode” posts. How open minded are the people who stick to it? (I won’t link as that might be a negative association and I have no one’s permission, so…but trust me they are out there!). Are they REALLY more open by the third episode than they were at the first? How often, REALLY, do things change because of the third episode? Or do people just carry the same opinions they had on pilot day, and end up posting a bunch of passive aggressive statements because they feel obligated to give the series a fair shake?
Or, vice-versa, Akuma no Riddle, a show that had ALL the signs it would be something I’d enjoy, and, well, we know how that went. Akuma no Riddle, by the way, had a very promising TER. But that didn’t save it from being shit. Black Bullet? The same.
“So, Doll,” you may be saying, “What strawman would you propose?”
I’d propose approaching anime, or TV, or books, or movies, the same way you approach everything else. If you aren’t feeling it, you aren’t feeling it. There is no reason to force yourself to sit through something you aren’t enjoying as a way to relax.
“But what if I want to be open as possible? How will I discover the gems?”
Why are you worried about that? Do you honestly think you’ll wander an anime discussion board, or go to a con, and NOT hear about Attack on Titan, or whatever? I’m just drawing that as an example. I have a vague understanding of the show, and I’ve never even watched a single episode.
WE’RE NERDS. WE DON’T KEEP SECRETS WELL. When was the last time you had to FORCE your friends who watch anime to tell you what the latest and greatest is? Or do you instead find out about it because they change their facebook icon, or send you a clip, or whatever ways we nerds use to convert the non-believers to our faith? You REALLY think the best series are going to slip through the cracks like that? Nuh uh.
Meditate on Your Fandom
I think that, honestly, the best way to look at things is the superficial way. Let us nod at our friend, Lord G. If there is the slightest CHANCE of two girls holding hands in it, he knows. He just has that bloodhound skill.
That is, in a way, a very superficial way to pick your shows. But, just looking at his tags, the largest genre markers are “Action, Fantasy, Comedy, Slice of Life, Fighting”, he has a pretty wide spectrum to choose from, and as a more happy-go-lucky viewer, he seems, at least, quite content with that. I rather admire him, he seems so zen about some of the nonsense he covers.
And, you see it here. I like tragedy. I like darkness. If it made someone cry, I smiled.
That is admittedly harder to sniff out of a series blurb. But, well, look at my pitiful attempt to view Blade Dance. It was the worst dreck and I literally did not last five minutes. A woman who looked at the ENTIRETY of Unbreakable Machine Doll as one of our first series here. That is how awful it was. But even among awfuls, there is a hierarchy.
I cannot really hope to categorize every anime viewer’s expectations (perhaps for post 300…), that’s starting to sound like work. But I am quite comfortable with the fact I can endure shit if the world is entertaining to me. And I can’t watch gold if the reverse is true (looking at Fruits Basket here). I have that really specific thing I want.
And the only real way to learn those skills to anticipate the shows that might blow you away, to learn the patterns of their storytelling, is to watch both the golden, and the shit, all the way through.