It’s the start of the season and I’m watching a lot of brand new shows for the first time. This means that I’ve also been making decisions on which shows to keep watching and that has me reflecting on what exactly I look for in the first episode of a new series.

anime treasure
I’m digging for gold…you get it, I don’t need to explain it….

This actually comes up for me a lot. Since I’m a disorganized binge watched, I’m picking up new series once a week, sometimes more. And some of you may recall that I’m trying to perfect the art of dropping shows this year.

This post is really not a guide for what to look for in the early episodes of an anime. I am not qualified to write such a thing at all. It’s more of a way for me to organize my own thoughts to help me in future decisions. But I like to share this stuff with you guys. You often have great insights and suggestions.

For a bit of context, I’m a huge fan of anime and tend to enjoy the medium a lot. In other words I’m not super picky. Moreover, I have the naive optimistic side that makes me think shows are always about to get way better in the next episode so I should watch one more. I’ve been proven right just enough times to make me reticent of dropping anything… Dropping shows takes discipline!

This said, I’ve been better at it lately. I dropped 2 shows not so long ago (both cute boy shows…) and I’m on a high of decisiveness which I want to milk for as long as I can.

I wanted to love you so much….

This said, it is true that narratives and characters can evolve wildly and unexpectedly in shows, it can be difficult to get a proper idea right off the bat. I don’t want to over correct and end up dropping series I would have loved. I also don’t want to spend 3 episodes per show. Generally, when I do manage to drop a series, I do it about 10 to 15 minutes in.

However, I’ve never actually thought about what makes me want to continue watching and what makes me turn off. These are personal criteria of course, not blanket standards that cannot should apply to all fans.

As I mentioned story and characters can really surprise you but production and performance rarely does. So that’s a great place for me to start. If I don’t like the art style or animation from the start, I’m likely never going to like it. Designs that I might not find appealing can really grow on me if I like the character or show but there has to be something else. On the other hand, in my experience, voice actor performance rarely gets better. Good voice actors can have scenes that elevate them to greatness but bad ones (or badly cast ones) usually stay at that level throughout. To me, this can actually ruin the watching experience. Thankfully it has not happened to often and is usually way more frequent in dubs (again in my personal experience only). This said if I actively dislike the performance of a main cast member, I’m likely to drop a show right away.

I was supposed to talk about things I look for and I m just dwelling on stuff I avoid. This isn’t a great start.

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Ok, one of the biggest indicators that I m going to like a show in the first episodes is efficiency of exposition and visual storytelling. If I can get through half an episode with good understanding of the premise, the universe and a general idea of who the characters are as people, without having o sit through any expo dumps, that almost always means that the writers and directors know what they’re doing, in my opinion. If I can pick up on visual cues or animation foreshadowing right from the start, I’m likely to enjoy the series even if it’s just for the craftsmanship.

I also think that pacing is a highly underrated virtue in anime. I read a tweet a few years ago from a fellow blogger that argued that there was no such thing as good or bad pacing. That it was a borderline meaningless term that was overused by reviewers who didn’t know how to express their thoughts or wanted to sound professional. It was an interesting thought and much better expressed than I’m putting it here. I completely disagree and it hurts me a bit that people think this way.

Pacing does have a meaning. The speed and frequency at which the narrative gives out information, develops characters and dishes out action scenes can completely make or break an anime, in my opinion. It’s just that analyzing and appreciating pacing from a viewer’s standpoint can be difficult. My personal trick for first episodes is this: if I thought the episode seemed really long, it’s a bad sign, if I was surprised it ended so quickly sometimes to the point were I need to check that they are not playing the closing credits with 10 minutes to go, then it’s a great sign! If I actively check how much time’s left at the halfway mark, I should probably be dropping the series…

anime drop
but… I mean…

Characters are tricky. If I fall in love right off the bat, then it’s an easy decision. I love character driven anime so I can watch even a boring story for the sake of one great character. But I also love character development and many characters with great arcs can start off sort of weak or bland. So many times I have caught myself choosing a favourite character for a review that I had no interest in at first.

The last thing I like to do is, at the end of the episode, figure out what my hopes are for the series. It doesn’t have to be super precise. Maybe “,I hope we get to know this character better” or “I hope it can maintain the tension properly”, even “I hope the chemistry between those two gets better…” The only way I can formulate a sincere hope for a show is if I have enough information about the plot and characters and enough engagement to care. It’s a little thing but this simple exercise has been really helpful in choosing between two shows that seem almost the same at first glance.

Of course I m still terrible at dropping anime so you really shouldn’t base yourself on me. Do you have any tips or tricks to figure out if you’ll like a series right from the start?

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22 thoughts

  1. I can usually tell to an extent if I’ll like the show from the trailer when the shows are all announced at the beginning of the season and then give it a shot. Assuming I went in blind though or they didn’t release a trailer I’m typically looking at the characters and animation first and foremost. If both of those aspects are fairly solid then I can put up with the rest.

    For a negative sign, if the very first scene of the show is a random fanservice moment then I’m probably going to duck out real quick

      1. Well, if it’s something like a character jiggling a bit as they’re fighting an enemy in the first scene I can at least try to disregard that as the animators trying to show off some physics with the first episode usually being high budget. If we’re starting with someone awkwardly tripping, a hot springs/shower scene, or something like that then it’s more in the drop variety.

  2. One thing that I look at are the voices. Anime is full of characters who have badly done voices, even in subs. Especially children. Children are not adults pitching their voice into a falsetto.

    I have heard thousands of different little children speak from ages 5 to 13 plus my own children. Usually only the best anime gets children’s voices right. Or even high pitched adult voices.

    If I see too much dependence on fanservice in the first episode it tells me that they may not have a lot more to offer. Some shows can get away with it (Are You Lost?) but most cannot.

  3. With how fast life’s been going, first episodes have started becoming a lot more important to me. From this season alone, only Eizouken has captured my interest from the get-go. It’s honestly a hard rule to follow but with my insanely huge backlog, that’s about how I have to do things.

    1. I actually find that the number of seasonal shows I pick up doesn’t really affect the rate at which I go through my back log…. Hmm did I break space-time?

  4. I’m pretty bad at deciding what will be good from a first episode. Though much better at knowing what I definitely won’t like and dropping that mid-first episode. The problem is, some stories just don’t have great starts (or it is hard to know whether they will do something with all the pieces they scatter about in episode one). Horror in particular might have a strong or weak opening without that being reflective of the rest of the story and that is pretty much the same as with horror movies where all the payoff comes in the third act.
    Then again, sometimes I’m just curious about something even if I know it won’t be very good. Curiosity can make me sit through a lot of episodes of something before I’ll give up and usually by then I’m committed to finishing it.

      1. I am also guilty of that in certain genres. But, I watched to be entertained. It doesn’t always need to be high quality.

  5. No tricks at all, just intuition. I know from experience that I get it wrong in both direction. This season, for example, I knew from the opening shot that I was going to drop Darwin’s Game, but I gave it a few more minutes to change my mind (which it didn’t). Meanwhile, Pet is ambiguous. There are things that draw me in, and things that push me away, and I’m not quite sure what kind of things those are (on either side). Similarly, I’m not sure what to make of 22/7. Sometimes I’m uncertain all the way through a show, and when I’m finished with it I still don’t know what to think of it. Those shows are rare, and I wish had an example right now, but I can’t remember a show like that right now. I do distinctly remember the feeling of bewilderment at having watched a show and not knowing whether I like it or not. It’s a rather frustrating feeling.

    I do know that, as a fan of slice-of-life, plot is rather low on my list of priorities.

    1. PET is a puzzle. I just finished my ep2 review…I think it’s the first time I ever thought a show would be better as live action

  6. First impressions are EVERYTHING if the story is good and the characters do seem to be engaging then i’ll give the show a chance. If the story does have a weak start but you are willing to give it a second chance and then later it starts to become a great story and one of your favorite anime’s then great.
    Having an open mind and realistic expectations and after you watched the entire show out and figuring out what you like or dislike about the show is the way to go.
    This principle applies to in reality whatever form of entertainment you watch be it video games,anime,manga or live action stuff too.
    Interesting article you made overall.

    1. My problem tends to be the opposite. I watch everything and almost never drop a show. So i guess I need to learn to close my mind a little

    2. Picking up shows just for the reason of oh it looks cool or its because a voice actor,director or writer/artist made it or is staring it is the easiest way to find disappointment. Just because Tetsuya Nomura made it doesn’t mean that its going to be great either.

  7. Yeah I think everything you said was spot on. I don’t really have any set criteria for what makes me keep watching a series, but generally if the hook is solid and there’s at least one major character I enjoy watching I’ll at least give it an episode or two.

    I will say that sometimes my expectations have been wrong and I will drop a show early on only to pick it up again and enjoy it a lot more later. I did this with Mob Psycho 100, where I watched the first episode and then put it off for a long time because I didn’t jive with the art style. But this weekend I decided to pick it up again and while I still don’t really *like* the art style, the action and character development eventually won me over. So sometimes if I like certain aspects of an anime, but haven’t enjoyed the full package yet I’ll just put it off for a while and see if I can appreciate it later when I’m more in the mood for it

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