You know how back in the day when we had like 5 options for anime and 2 of them were written for kindergartners so we just watched the same old show as everyone else, sometimes for years? Maybe we still do… Point is, since there were no real alternatives for anime fans, we tended to stick with a series pretty much no matter what.

Thankfully, our options have improved a lot since then and we no longer have to slog through shows we consider kind of boring or badly written. For most of us, there is more anime than we will ever be able to watch. But did we over-correct in the process? Are we now just randomly dropping shows at the slightest provocation never giving a decent story a chance?


draing and the franxx
hold up, I’m getting there…

I don’t mean me. I have the opposite problem where my OCD completionist side will bind me to the abstract notion of “finishing” way past the point of honest enjoyment. I’m not bragging. Don’t be like me, it’s silly. Adding titles to my completed list gives me way more satisfaction than is justified. I’m speaking fro  observation rather than experience.

This thought isn’t completely random on my part but it is based on skewed perceptions. More specifically, because I don’t really know anyone who casually watches seasonal anime, I get my impressions from social media and other bloggers. Social media is never a good place to get impressions from as it exists in an exaggerated hyper “reality” and other bloggers aren’t the best representatives of the average viewer either. Still they are sort of vanguards of anime watching trends so even though my observations may not apply to the general public yet, I think there’s a chance they will some day.

Let’s get into some very recent examples to show you what I mean. When Dr Stone debuted last summer, it did so to a bit of fanfare. Crunchyroll was heavily promoting what they hoped would be another big Shonen success and the manga had been (is?) fairly popular. There was good reason to think this show would capture the audience and the premiere got a lot of largely positive attention.

However, the early episodes suffer from an unbalanced cast and this became extremely apparent a few episodes in. Moreover, the anime did rely on well worn tropes of making characters loud and excitable to entertain younger viewers through science based material which was a turn off to older audiences, as it usually is. As a result, I noticed that a month later, the buzz had died down significantly. Many bloggers decided to drop the show as did quite a few viewers if my comments are to be believed and it became a niche experience.

Dr Stone ep18-6 (3)
don’t worry, it gets better

But the thing is, quite soon after that the narrative took a serious turn by separating the main character from the rest and introducing us to a completely new ensemble cast which fixed most of the issues I had with the show. Since then it’s been consistently entertaining and the few bloggers that stuck around seem to be fairly happy with it as well.

And then episodes 16 and 17 aired. This two part flashback giving us a greater context of what happened before the start of the series was just fantastic. Brilliantly paced, smartly developed and devastatingly emotional. These episodes were in my opinion just wonderful. The best episodes of airing anime I watched for those two weeks, by far and they have had a lingering impact on me.

As I read my fellow bloggers views on the new shows they’ve picked up, a lot of which weren’t overly enthusiastic, I thought to myself that they probably would have enjoyed Dr Stone more…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should pick up the show again or that you shouldn’t drop anything, but I do get the impression that viewers don’t give anime as many chances as they use to. In a way that could be a good thing, forcing shows to be of higher quality. Then again when “higher quality” is dictated by the tastes of the lowest common denominator, I’m not sure quality is still the best word for it.


The famed 3 episode rule does have another side effect though. It means a series has to front load its narrative. I once read that it’s considered good marketing to put in all your “heaviest” fanservice between episodes 2 and 6 (or 3 and 10 for a 24 do season). You need the first episode to establish your premise and make your character introductions but after you’ve gotten the story down, you have to hit them with the sex appeal to get them hooked and keep it up until your viewers are invested. Then you can ease off. I can’t say I’ve done an intensive study on this but I have noticed several shows where the fanservice sort of peters out after a while. This may also explain weird out of place fanservice that’s thrown in for a couple of episodes then seems forgotten.

It can also mean that a disproportionate chunk of your budget will go to your opening act resulting in visibly declining production values as a series progresses, with less and less high action sequences or more jagged CG.

Of course, a good studio (and team if writers) will know how to properly balance everything but it is still a consideration that must come into play and I have a feeling that certain narratives end up rather disadvantaged by it. Would something like Lain survive these days? Fist episode was amazing but then nothing happened for what would be a month of weekly viewings. That slow burn is part of the charm but would a studio still take the risk? I’m already hearing people grumble if a season isn’t in full swing by ep3.

Because I have a feeling at least one person will tell me I’m completely wrong and Lain was a thrill ride all the way through, let me just say I’m a huge fan of the show. And yeah, I know some people think Slice of Life are entire series where nothing happens, that’s also different. The series establish themselves and showcase exactly what they have to offer right from the start. In fact due to the episodic nature of the genre, they often have much shorter opening acts than series with overarching narratives. It’s a different dynamic than a show just taking a handful of episodes to even get to what it is.

All of this is based on personal observation mind you. Take it with a salt mine. I would be curious to know, have you noticed the same trends? Or are you seeing something completely different?

Sherlock Rini

28 thoughts

  1. I think it might be an attention span kinda thing, we are so bombarded with new shows, and then also dealing with social media and the fast pace of life these days, there are a lot more things competing for our attention than there used to be!

    It is kind of a bummer because it seems like these days, anime fans don’t seem to appreciate the classics. I’ve heard a lot of people rag on Eva, Cowboy Bebop and even FMA: Brotherhood cause they are too slow-paced for them. They’ll give up after just a few episodes before the deeper plot really even kicks in. But then I remember that I have trouble watching newer Marvel movies because the editing is so fast, I can’t even tell what the hell is happening half the time. So maybe I’m just an old lady yelling at a cloud (well, elder millennial at least)!

  2. Excellent and something that needed to be said with the glut of anime we have these days and the so called 3 episode rule. I will say i never picked up Dr. Stone as I’ve been reading the manga and while it’s ok, it didn’t wow me enough to pick up the anime. Lastly I’m like you and I can count on 1 hand the shows I didn’t finish.

  3. Actually, most of my choices for a season come from casual watching–I just don’t have the time to devote to “searching” for shows, so I watch what looks interesting and either stay or leave. (Like RayeRayeChan, I favor slice-of-life. Those tend to be the first offerings I seek out and the ones I most likely stick with, although I’ve found some great stuff otherwise by random watching–Magical Circle Guru Guru, for instance. . .)

  4. I guess I’m more patient than most as I have a four episode rule! 😛 I’ll explain – this is because when I began reviewing anime DVDs 12 year ago, they used to release them with just four episodes per disc (eking out releases to four individual discs a time; nowadays you get a whole single cour series on 2 discs), which became my benchmark for giving a new show a chance.

    To the topic at hand, for me, I think fans should look at the episode count first. If it is a two-cour show then they should expect the pace of the storytelling to be less hectic thus patience is required. If it is a single cour show then expect a brisker pace. Then again, some single cour shows start slow and pick up later so it depends on the story being told.

    But the onus is also on the writers to keep the pace steady and the content interesting otherwise they will lose audiences early on – look at Angels of Death and how many people gave up on that one so quickly.

    Conclusion – it is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other! 😉

  5. Wow, Disgaea (second-last image)? I may not have ever been in that fandom, but I recognise the art enough to go, “Whoa, that video game series is a lot older than I think it is…” (It’s originally hailing from 2003, if you’re about to type into your search bar.)

    That aside, it’s best to temper your expectations according to what you know about the genre and/or the work (with certain exceptions, such as Samurai Flamenco). That is, you shouldn’t expect to be wowed every episode when it comes to, say, One Piece or other battle/adventure shonen since they always take their time getting set up, but expect more from shows which you already know from the outset you’re getting 12 episodes at 5 minutes each (and only that much).

    …Then again, I have my own system to make sure I don’t miss a good show, even if I passed over it the first time (the “re-evaluate” list, plus going back to something I’ve previously dropped if I feel like such an action is warranted), but I don’t know how people on non-AniList sites deal with such a problem.

  6. I’ll be honest, I do tend to find myself using the three episode rule a lot when I’m watching seasonal stuff, if I bother at all. Like you mentioned, there is only so much time in the day, and so people want to watch what they think is good, myself included. Still, your point about quantity over quality is valid. But that’s also just the economics of the situation. Not saying that justifies making trashy shows, but studios do usually have razed thin margins.

  7. As someone who dropped the show , I honestly had more shows to watch that entertained me more . I think A lot of viewers already have a huge list of shows to watch so if one starts boring them its easier to drop it rather than keep watching .

  8. I don’t mind a slow burn show, but I can see that if you’re the person who has to watch *everything*, finding yourself being more quick on the draw to drop a show (God knows I dropped _What The Hell Are You Doing Here Teacher?_ very quickly, only to come back to it later and find it incredibly funny)

    Thus far I’ve generally tried to keep the number of new shows I watch each season under 10 so I have less of that problem and I have room for my ever-growing backlog.

  9. There are basic cultural differences in the Japanese approach to storytelling. It’s not just anime – Japanese novels have a different sort of rhythm to them as well. Even Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s most acclaimed living authors, has been criticized in more conservative Japanese literary circles for having a writing style that’s too “western” for their tastes. The most reductive way to describe it is to say that Japanese stories tend to focus more on emotions, while western stories tend to focus more on plot and conflict, though that’s obviously an oversimplification that would do a disservice to quite a few excellent works on both sides of the ocean. Nevertheless, I think there’s been a tendency in a lot of anime over the years to want to introduce the characters and the world first, give the audience time to acclimate to them and begin to feel some emotional attachment, and only then kick the actual plot into gear. Thus you end up with classic slow-burners like Mai-Hime or Noir, or even Bebop to a lesser extent, where the early part of the series is largely episodic and it takes 8 or 9 episodes for the main plot to really get going for those who are patient enough to wait it out that long. Or these days when most anime are 12 episodes instead of 24, you often see the main plot start coming into focus around episode 4 or 5. Well even episode 4 is already an hour or more into the story, and if you’re a younger blogger raised on Marvel movies and that kind of attention-demanding, high-tension storytelling, then you’re conditioned to expect not only a firmly established conflict but at least two or three major setpiece scenes by the time you’re an hour into the show.

    There’s an excellent article on some of the differences between Japanese and western storytelling, as examined through the angle of fairy tales, that you can find at

    1. That’s very true. And I’ve heard that before. I grew up with Soviet and Eastern European style fiction which is often non linear in plot construction (even if the narrative is linear) and I know a lot of my friends have a lot of trouble adapting to it.

  10. Instant gratification culture. If Dr. Stone’s not a raging success at launch it never will be. What’s the next big thing? It feels like anime shelve life has dropped significantly. Netflix shows, who don’t get released as they air, are basically still-borne as far as the community goes. How often do you hear people talk about Little Witch Academia. Would have been a much bigger show on any other platform.

    Part of that is timing and turning anime watching in a social media spectacle. We can’t wait for a show to gain momentum, because all the other shiney new shows are going to block that. It’s the lemming road, but these are the times we live in.

      1. I don’t actually buy it myself, though. It’s the internet bubble phenomenon. Shounen fighters are more popular than anime blogging. I mean if we go by people watching a show, Black Clover has been one of the most popular shows out there for more than 2 years, now, and all I heard about it is that Asta was annoyingly loud. Surely, someone is watching the show, or it wouldn’t get these numbers.

        Similarly, I’ve always wondered who Netflix anime are reaching. It’s entirely possible that more people are watching those shows than your average otaku fare, which is the bread and butter of aniblogging/-twitter. Just more disjointed and among movies. They tend to pick their shows pretty well. Few of their shows are typical otaku stuff. For example, their Castlevania show rates 7.29 on MAL, but 8.1 on IMDb. (My impression is that IMDb has more “ruthless” raters than MAL, but I’m not on IMDb too much.)

        But even if we put this in perspective, you are making a point that’s interesting. I’m wondering why I replied with the post I did? It’s actually post take two, and I don’t remember take 1 very well, but it was longer, and more incoherent, but one point that got lost in the conversion is this: People dropping a show may not drop it forever. I certainly have picked up shows I’ve previously dropped more than once; sometimes years later. Shows get second chances.

        Is this likely to happen to Dr. Stone. In some cases, maybe, but generally no. From what little I’ve seen, and from what I’ve read it’s a solid show, but not a stand-out. The more mainstream a show is, the more competition it has. And since the market is huge, the fans tend to bond early. Is this actually true? I don’t know.

        But the marketing model is definitely different from something like Lain. Something like Dr. Stone will be continuously available on lots media, but once it’s gone it’s not likely to come back (though it’s not likely to disappear). Something like Lain will have sporadic re-issues (I own a recent boxed-set I like a lot) with a limited print run; it’s surviving on reputation rather than sales, but because of the reputation, it’s not such a risk to re-issue a show like that. I mean look at the reception of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: there’s a core audience that would snap up a physical release in a heartbeat (if the market channels are there – I’m not sure your average anime distributor is actually the best venue), though it’s never going to be a huge seller. Here’s a show that dedicated an entire season to backstory, and dedicated a lot of screen-time to people kneeling on a stage and talking in funny voices and it was glorious, and plenty of people know this.

        The momentum-blocking thing I talked about? I think it’s real for mainstream shows, but not for something like Lain. Those shows always rely on word of mouth getting louder by increment over years. Look at second seasons: both Rakugo and The Eccentric Family had people come out of the woodwork full of excitement, and I’m fairly sure that got others to pick up those shows. People still bring up Ping Pong the Animation even though it’s not a rawwr underdog story.

        The biggest threat for a series is actually streaming rights expiring. For example, The Eccentric Family just wasn’t available for a while (but Crunchy got the rights back in time to create hype for season 2).

        I’m not actually that pessimistic. Some good shows don’t get the recognition they deserve, but that’s just life and not a sign of the times.

        I don’t normally post this sort of simplified ranty stuff. Don’t know why I did this time. Maybe I just liked the term “lemming road” as a metaphor? (I’m sometimes typing up things like this post but close the tab rather than hit post. The internet has taught me that people often take me more seriously than I do myself when I do. I can get these rants out of my system just by typing it up well enough, without being read.)

  11. Time to be an anime boomer, but kids these days have no idea how good they have it. While the current platform isn’t perfect, there are more ways than ever to watch anime when you want it and how you want it. We had to go through a LOT more stuff back in the early 2000s to watch anime for the CHANCE of a good anime. Half the time, it ends up being some edgy Japanimation that your dad would immediately pop out of the DVD player.

  12. I tend to enjoy slice of life shows more than any other in recent years and I totally agree that we are very lucky to have so much choice now but I feel this means even more pressure on a show to ‘be good’ in the first few episodes – which as you say is indeed a shame. I’m really enjoying Oresuki at the moment and I haven’t really had a chance to delve into Dr Stone or other Fall 2019 anime…

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