T.A. Barnhart
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shiki

anime

3-episode rule

If you read about anime or read anime reviews, you’ve probably heard of the 3-episode rule. If that’s a new concept to you, let me explain.

It will change your life.

[intro]

3 steaks. 3 episodes. yum

Ok, that was nonsense.

First of all, it’s not really a rule. It’s more like a reason to debate about any kind of rules and personal tastes and what idiots some people are, etc etc. You know, the typical online discussion matter.

But the 3-episode rule, so-called, is a handy way to decide if an anime is worth watching for all ten, twelve or even twenty-six or more episodes. In short, rather than giving up on an anime after a single episode, give the series a chance for three episodes; then you’re more likely to discover if it’s worth watching further or not. If it’s not worth it, you’ll probably bail before the third episode finishes. But who knows? Give it the full three episodes, and you may find yourself rewarded for your perseverance.

Now, some shows prove themselves in a single episode – or less. I have deep-sixed shows after just a few minutes of episode one – and I have been won over entirely in the same amount of time. In these cases, the 3-episode rule is useless.

But here’s why the rule can help make sure you don’t miss out on a show you’ll end up liking.

A typical anime, once stripped of commercials and the opening and ending credits, is twenty minutes long. That’s not a lot of time to introduce characters, set the scene, and get the plot rolling. The more characters and the more convoluted the plot, the less you’ll get in those twenty minutes. Often, it takes well into the third episode for the viewer to be able to say, Ah that’s what this is about.

Or conversely, to say, Eff it.

A good example of why the 3-episode rule is a useful tool is the currently running Kahaka Tonkastu Ramens.

Episode 1 introduced the main characters. Episode 2 threw in some plot twists, and ended with the battle lines for the rest of the series drawn. It took two full episodes to get to that point. Two full episodes for the set-up. And that’s the challenge the makers of this show faced: getting through the first two episodes with their audience intact and, they hope, some good reviews and word-of-mouth.

And after these two episodes, it’s ranked #17 among 41 new series, more or less. (Not an exact science.) Episode 3 comes out Friday; I think it’s likely to remain watchable, given that the producers haven’t resorted to clichés but seem willing to take some chances and use creativity. I probably would have watched for at least three episodes even if I hadn’t decided to give the 3-episode rule a chance in borderline shows like this.

So far this season, of the shows I decided to give a try, two have bitten the dust in less than two episodes. There is one that might not survive the third episode, and a few others that are a bit dicey. But there are a surprising number of good quality shows that seem likely to keep me watching for the entire season.

The 3-episode rule is a nice heuristic. It’s easy to give up on a show too soon; I’ve done that in the past, only to find I needed to go back and give it more of a chance. I stopped watching Mad Men, a great anime from the 60s, after the sixth episode; I thought the identity-swap thing was ludicrous. It was, but I still went back and finished the series.

But really, if a show is worth watching, it probably won’t take three episodes to figure out. The rule is most useful for borderline cases. Now and then, it really does take several episodes for a show to get rolling, and deciding to stick it out through three can prove worthwhile. I find, however, that a 5-minute rule is more often applicable.

So perhaps the real value of the 3-episode rule is –

another opportunity for people online to argue about something.

And I hope this entices you to wait for my third anime-related blog, whenever that happens.

T.A. Barnhart