The ??-Episodes Rule

An idea that fascinated me when I first got into anime is the concept of an x-episode rule. Basically, how many episodes does any given anime get to convince you to commit to the series. Some people will watch anything they start to completion, but those of us with shamefully bloated backlogs may be tempted to abandon a series if it doesn’t click with us right away. My dropped list certainly has its fair share of anime that were left behind after a mere handful of episodes, and many more I hadn’t even bothered to document.

Some people argue that any show should be owed at least 3 episodes to gets it setup out of the way and show the audience what it’ll be like. Depending on the length of a series, that may either be 25% of the whole anime or barely any of it for longer-running franchises. Others go even further, by claiming any anime should be able to hook you in with episode 1. Digibro had a good video on this that was fortunately archived before that channel’s implosion. This article won’t be a direct response to that video, but here’s the link for anybody who is interested in a different perspective.

While I haven’t heard much discourse about this concept in a while, I was reminded of this “rule” while watching Madlax. Its first episode is all about the titular Madlax and sees her complete an action-filled mission that descends into a surreal battle scene. If you’d apply the 1-episode rule there you’d be in for a strange turn when episode 2 is all about Margaret’s weird but carefree life in alternate-world France. So it’s 3 episodes for this case? Well, then you’re just in the middle of a few standalone episodes that only retroactively make sense until you’re far into the series.

For me, Madlax wasn’t a certainty until almost halfway through the series, when the pieces began moving faster and I began to get enough of a grasp on the mystery to tell, for sure, that I was invested in it. I wasn’t bored throughout the early episodes and nothing happened that made me want to drop the series, but I certainly held it as a possibility that this show could have turned into a flop.

To be fair, the argument for the 1-episode rule is often not related to the story, but rather the skill with which it is being told. Proponents argue that a good show will reflect its future quality in the directing, sound-design, and visuals, even as early as the first episode. And yea, those qualities are all very important for an anime, but they aren’t always THE MOST important to every anime or fan. It’s fun to argue directing and sound-design when you have background in film or review anime, but no amount of snooty discourse about camera angles and shading is going to matter when “bad” shows still attain fans or even become international successes.

Nisekoi is a great example of a series that has solid presentation, but a lacking premise.

I’ve dumped shows in a single episode myself, sometimes I didn’t even finish the whole episode, but this solution is subjective. If you dumped Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, or Demon Slayer and can intricately explain your cinematographic reasoning for doing so, that’s totally valid. It’s just not objective truth, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of people that saw the same first episode and were totally hooked in.

In theory, I am more of a supporter of the 3-episode rule because it’s goal is seeing if a click forms between the anime and the viewer naturally, as opposed to asking viewers to analyze and prioritize the intricate, artistic details of everything they consume. But in reality, I don’t think it’s possible to put any number on it at all. Sometimes you know an anime isn’t for you in one episode, be it because the premise & characters fall flat, or for high-brow reasons that deal with the directing work and atmosphere. Sometimes you realize in 3, or 5, maybe even much more. Passing the 3-episode milestone is no guarantee you’re going to keep enjoying the show, and nobody should feel obligated to keep watching a series when their enjoyment of it has evaporated.

The first arc of Kaiji was amazing stuff, but I lost interest when the next arc had nothing to do with gambling.

I have done two whole articles about series that I stopped watching and I still sometimes come upon a show like Kaiji – Ultimate Survivor that starts off great, but I just get sick of it and drop it by episode 12. There’s no “rule” that’s going to convince me to go back and watch more Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle.

What about you though? How many episodes of an anime do you typically watch before deciding to stick with it? Or do you perhaps finish everything you start?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. I find it varies. Mostly I will have dropped a show around episode 3 if I’m just not enjoying it. Sometimes, if it’s a longer series and I can see some promise, I’ll go to 8. That being said, if a show didn’t grab me at all, I wouldn’t be opposed to dropping it at 1 episode, it just depends how little interest it garnered in me.

  2. Karandi says:

    If I really hate something I’ll drop it in the first episode but most anime that I start I’ll give at least three episodes. The difficulty for me is if I watch beyond that point I’m more or less committed and I struggle to drop something at the 5 or 6 episodes point even if I’m not really enjoying it. Which is about the only reason I finished Full Dive.

    1. Casper says:

      “Full Dive” got me excited, thinking there was another anime about open water diving. This… looks miserable however.

      1. Karandi says:

        Oh yes. It could have been interesting but honestly just ended up being quite the painful watch.

  3. AK says:

    I loved all of Kaiji, but maybe that just proves your point — no series is going to suit everyone in the same way, so there’s no way to make a hard and fast rule about when it “gets good” or how long you should wait for it. By contrast, I dropped season 1 of Attack on Titan halfway through because I just felt it wasn’t for me, even though I won’t dispute its great qualities. It is just a subjective thing.

    My feeling is that a show should do its best to hook you from episode 1. Some series require a lot of setup, but I think even the setup to the story can be interesting and work as a hook if it’s done right. It’s better if you can stick with a show for a while to give it a fair shot, though. And sometimes it can turn out bad in an entertaining way, which can be just as interesting.

  4. ashleycapes says:

    I like the 3 episode rule too – that being said, I often give a series about half an episode to draw me in, as I’m too aware of the backlog, yeah 😀

    1. Casper says:

      Half an episode, that’s ruthlessly efficient. I agree though. No sense spending valuable time on shows you aren’t enjoying.

      1. ashleycapes says:

        Feels harsh of me, yeah – but definitely, I gotta spend that limited time wisely 😀

  5. momomanamu says:

    I always watch my anime series based on entertainment value. I never force myself to watch an anime. If I start feeling bored or notice that I’m checking my phone while watching a series, I turn that anime off and move to another one. If I’m watching series and something happens that offends or annoys me, I turn the anime off immediately. I watch anime to make me feel better, not worse.

  6. alsmangablog says:

    I don’t really have a hard rule for how many episodes I’ll give a show to hook me. I generally try to watch 2-3 episodes before deciding, but I’ve definitely dropped a show after one episode before. I only have so much time, you know?