If you’ve been in the anime community for any extended length of time you are probably aware that most fans seem to agree that you shouldn’t drop an anime before completing 3 episodes. Why is this, though? Shouldn’t this be scaled or why do you need 25% of a 12 episode show but 12.5% is fine for 24 episodes? The most common reason I have seen is that’s how long it usually takes the premise of a show to be fully laid out. While I disagree with that being the best way to chose which shows to complete there’s also a much quicker way that doesn’t require potentially wasting 72 minutes (assuming the show is 24 minute episodes) of your life.
See this section taken from MyAnimeList’s page on Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)? After completing the entire show (as well as previously being caught up in the manga) that’s pretty much what you’ll get from the premise after watching 3 episodes. What you won’t get (and what I’m guessing most mean when they say “premise”) is the execution of the premise. I’ll get into why why I don’t think this needs 3 episodes in a bit.
To put the final nail in the coffin of “premise” what about episodic shows or shorts? With shorts you generally would need to watch the show 3 times if it’s 2 minutes, 13 episodes in order to get around the same amount of exposure as 3 episodes would give you so how does that help? You’re going to watch it 3 times to decide if you drop it? If you only watch 3 episodes that’s still not the length of even 1 episode of a 24 minute show. Going to episodic either each episode will be entirely different meaning you can’t really grasp what it’s about until you’ve finished or they’re pretty much the same just telling different jokes in which case you can tell midway through episode 2.
So why doesn’t execution need 3 episodes? Go take any fiction writing class or find a decent article online outlining how to do it. Every teacher I’ve had has given the same advice (which you’ve probably heard when learning how to write essays or term papers) you need to hook the audience in the FIRST chapter/episode/scene/paragraph/etc. Now are there writers that are bad at creating hooks that still wrote a story worth reading/watching? Absolutely. You can usually spot these though. An example for me is Dagashi Kashi. When finishing episode 1 I thought the show was dull and would get boring quickly just being a bunch of kids freaking out about cheap candy constantly but if you read my review, you’ll know I really enjoyed it. The reason why I don’t consider this proof of needing the 3 episode rule is episode 1 wasn’t boring. I thought the show would get boring but it wasn’t yet boring.
These kinds of shows I don’t think should be dropped at episode 1. How I deal with dropping something is if I’m getting bored now. If I’m doing things like constantly checking the timer or glancing at the screen to read the subtitles but mostly reading Twitter or staring out the window I’ll drop it. I watch shows to be entertained now not “It gets good at episode 16/24 but you’ll be bored to tears for episodes 1-15!”. This is the reason I ended up dropping Re:Zero. All I heard from friends is “It’s really good!” but never got a reason as to why it’s good and once I finally decided to watch it I never really found myself entertained. An easy way to tell how entertained I am is how often I Tweet out pictures, not really sure why I do it but unless I’m trying to avoid spoiling things I usually Tweet screenshots from shows I really enjoy (I guess to try getting others to watch and enjoy?). With Re:Zero I made it to episode 6 and had only Tweeted this one screenshot which was to critique something I dislike in writing that happened to show up. Episode 6 ends with a fairly major cliffhanger that would completely change one of the main characters and when I watched that and realized I just didn’t care how it turned out I thought it was time to drop it.
Going over shows I dropped before 3 episodes would include things like Active Raid S2, Asterisk War, Mob Psycho 100, and Tokyo Ghoul √A which I dropped all with only episode 1 completed and, going by popular opinion, be it positive or negative, are still pretty much the same show I thought I wouldn’t enjoy at that point. Even going by shows I dropped at episode 3 or later (too many to list so just look at my list here) most of them started out like Dagashi Kashi where I wasn’t really bored but wasn’t enjoying myself either but unlike Dagashi Kashi, they never improved, which got me bored. Some like Twin Star Exorcists, Lovely Complex and Osomatsu-san I started off liking but I didn’t like where they ended up going and dropped.
Now could there be a reverse of that? A show that starts off terrible but ends up great? Probably. As I said earlier I can’t watch a show simply on the promise “it gets good” but I have my bases covered. If it’s a completed show it starting bad and ending up being great is probably one of the first pieces of information you’ll find out when deciding if you should watch it or not. If it’s currently airing I’m usually paying attention to discussions for the first month of everything except sequels to make sure I’m not missing anything good. That usually gets me to episode 4 so if the show hasn’t gotten good by then I would have dropped it anyway using the 3 episode rule. If you decide to try this don’t just go with what popular opinion is, actually read the posts people are making (Crunchyroll forums generally have people writing a couple paragraphs for each episode as it airs if you want a place to start) and figure out from what the words say if it sounds like you’d enjoy the show. Generally unless it’s a show like School-Live hiding its true nature you’re not really going to be spoiled with only 3 or 4 episodes in text form but I’m at the point where I’ve enjoyed so many things even being spoiled before experiencing them that I’ve just stopped caring about spoilers.
The purpose of me writing this post is not to tell you your viewing habits are wrong or to brag mine are better. I wrote this for the people out there that follow the 3 episode simply because they heard that’s how the general community watches anime. I want to help people decide what works for them in order to only watch shows they’ll enjoy and not waste their time watching 3 episodes even though they know they won’t like it with 1 because they read on r/anime that’s how to do it. If after reading this you still want to watch 3 episodes of every show that’s great. Just don’t go around telling people that’s the only way to decide what to watch.