Back in 2014, there were 322 anime titles produced in Japan, which was a tremendous increase from the humble beginnings of TV anime in 1963 with only seven titles. Of course, watching all of them is impossible to do with the busy routines of our daily lives. The shortcut to get an overview of the newly available series can be through the so-called “three episodes rule” or reading first impressions (such as those written by KAORI). Unfortunately, the “three episodes rule” has more often becomes the sole measure in determining, for instance: to drop anime A, or to pick up anime B. The “three episodes rule” seems to be taken as sacrosanct, to be worshipped as truth. The words of the reviewer become a gospel to be followed and taken in unquestionably.
The past is not a guarantee of the future (or, how?)
Taking a slight detour from anime, let’s take a look at a great analogy from investment brochures, which says: “a company’s good performance in the past does not guarantee or even promise future performance. Read the prospects carefully before investing.”
Bobduh, an online writer, had also reached similar conclusion. He argued that the first three episodes cannot be used as a measure to evaluate the execution of a show. Moreover, early episodes can be really “deceiving” and when the schedule is getting tight, there will be changes in the production which can affect the quality of each episode.
To see how much different the impressions of the first three episodes compared to the final impression the ending of an anime series, look no further to Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi).
It’s also quite interesting to think how the model of “three episodes rule” seems pretty hard to be forced upon anime which has episodic stories, such as Myriad Colors Phantom World or Shin Atashinchi or Sazae-san.
Unfair to anime with more than 13 episodes (or any anime, really)
With anime that runs for more than 13 episodes per season getting rarer, viewers are unconsciously getting conditioned to grasp the main plot of an anime in the first three episodes.
But if we return to Erased‘s case, the turning point was at the 10th episode. Shuffle, an anime that aired in July 2005, has its first half only showing pandering by showcasing the characters in the visual novel. It’s the same with Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen which only becomes more serious after the second half has started.
Even with the cases of some visual novel adaptations such as Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm (or Air), the first three episodes commonly only introduces the characters and the “world” where they are living. How can you judge whether such anime really worth to watch, based only on the introduction arc?
Encouraging reckless decision making
Like it or not, for some groups of people, the “three episodes rule” has become a guideline in deciding whether to continue watching an anime or not. Writing an early impression from the first three episodes does not become a problem by itself if the writer can actually understand the intended message of the anime. But, what if the writer can’t? The quality of anime reviews on the internet (even in English websites) is largely appalling. Reviewing a show is not as simple as determining whether the story is clear or not, or even evaluating whether it is entertaining or not, or if it makes us think or not.
In the case of Phantom World which very viral on the internet, many people were debating about the excessiveness of the fanservice without being able to catch the hidden messages in the anime.
Follow it, or not at all
The existence of the “three episodes rule” becomes a dilemma. On one side, it is impossible to expect everyone to watch every airing anime (even moreso to spare some dedicated time to appreciate them). Watching anime is already like listening to mediocre songs from idol groups: enjoy it while it’s still hot, consume it until the use value has been spent, and not watch it again for the second time. But on the other side, the “three episodes rule”(in addition to genre and friend’s recommendation), can trap people in the cage of their colleagues’ preferences, especially, if the reader does not have the ability to critically assess how a reviewer shapes the discourse on the anime through the review.
There have been plenty of examples where someone without a principle on their own, having read an article on the internet, then use the article to legitimise their reason to hate a series. Adhering to impressions based on early episodes as the gospel has the potential to make these cases even worse.
To overcome this, there are several options that can be attempted. For instance, writers can try to make their preview of a show from the middle point of the anime (e.g. to episode 6 out of 13, or 12 out of 24). Another model that can be tried is to create an article that can help people to choose what they want to watch. Earlier, this has been tried in the case of Phantom World. Nevertheless, these steps could not stand on their own: there has to be a change in the viewer’s mindset, to be aware that the measure for whether a show is worth to watch is not always determined by how entertaining it is, or how deep is the narrative presented. In brief, there has to be a change from both the writers who make the reviews and also the readers who consume them.
But ultimately, it is the readers who have to be given the choice. The staff of KAORI still make first impression pieces (which are not always based on the first three episodes). But once again, do not take them for granted, especially if you take them as a reasoning to watch or to stop following an anime.
The Indonesian Anime Times | by Kevin W | Translated by Zacky Dhaffa | This article was originally published in Indonesian at KAORI Nusantara on 30 April 2016 | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara
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