How to Recognize a Terrible Anime (in just one episode)

Edited by The Davoo

Text version:

Over the last two videos, I’ve spent forty-five minutes or so playing defense for some relatively unpopular opening episodes to some widely-acclaimed anime series; under the premise that I don’t believe there’s ever been a great anime which started on a bad first episode (other than Gintama). What I haven’t really addressed, however, is the root cause of why these first episodes didn’t click for those people who failed to recognize their greatness on the initial viewing. There may be any number of factors which play into these reactions on a case-by-case basis, but if I were to boil it down to the one prevailing element which I think blinds a lot of people to recognizing the quality of a series from the start, it would be the premise. You’ll notice that the common thread in all of the episodes that I’ve talked about so far is that the premise was either unclear, or seemingly inane–and I think that this is where the whole idea of the three-episode test comes from; because that’s about how long it sometimes takes to figure out a show’s premise.

But if you were to ask me what the absolute least important factor is in determining whether a show is likely going to be great or terrible, it would be the premise. Not only has it been proven time and again that any premise can be made interesting if it’s executed well enough; but also that no matter how good a premise might seem, it can make for a terrible series if executed poorly.

Some of the best anime ever made have had some incredibly weak and boring premises. His and Her Circumstances is a high school romantic comedy about two really smart kids who start dating; that premise tells you absolutely nothing about the show’s quality–but watching the show tells you that it’s one of the most impeccably directed and written romantic comedies of all time. Ping Pong is a show about high school Ping Pong; you’d have no reason to believe that it was any different from any other high school sports anime if you didn’t watch it. Meanwhile, Aldnoah.Zero is about a war between the citizens of Earth, and the descendents of a group who colonized Mars–which sounds pretty cool; but the show is a bunch of dogshit, for reasons that were pretty apparent right from the first episode if you were paying attention. Go watch Turn A Gundam instead. Sources.

The thing about premise is that it makes for really good marketing–especially if it can be understood immediately. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that three of the most popular anime of the past decade: Death Note, Sword Art Online, and Attack On Titan, each have an incredibly striking premise which is made clear from the very first episode. Of course, the execution of the premise in each of these cases varies wildly–and one of these shows is probably the worst popular anime series of all time.

In retrospect, it’s a lot easier to notice that the first episode of Sword Art Online dedicates nearly ten minutes to an exposition scene between a big floating cloaked dude and a bunch of gormless noobs who are just standing around the whole time–and that this was probably indicative of what most of the show was going to be. At the time, however, the premise of a survival game set inside of a MMORPG was such a cool idea that I can’t blame anyone for thinking it would probably be awesome. That, of course, is why I’m here: to help you to recognize the signs of poor execution before you get hooked into a show that’s going to drag you through the depths of boredom and bullshit for 53 goddamn episodes.

So to start with, let’s take a look at a show with an immediately striking premise, and one of the worst opening episodes that I’ve ever seen: GATE. The premise of this series is that a gate opens up in the middle of Tokyo which leads to a world of classical swords and sorcery–and the armies of that world end up going to war against Japan’s self defense force. Right away, a premise this batshit crazy is bound to turn some heads and to excite the imagination. How many wizards does it take to shoot down a helicopter? Can a tank hold its own against a gigantic dragon? Just how many dudes in armor can one turret mow through? These are questions which man has toiled with for decades! You might think of the possibilities of large-scale tactical battles involving the logistics of complex magic systems and supernatural terrain effects against the power of modern technological might; or maybe dream about the idea of a fleshed out set of fictional government factions trying to interact and come to terms with the real ones that exist in our world. It’s the kind of premise which really gets you wanting to see where the writer might go with it.

If you’re anything like me, then those hopes carried you about eight minutes into the first episode, before it was pretty clear that the execution of this narrative would be lackluster at best.

The first fifty seconds don’t seem so bad, as a cold open teases at the hilarious premise we’re all waiting for–a horde of fantasy creatures facing off against a bunch of military dudes with assault weapons. The visual aesthetic is about as perfectly generic as it could possibly be, but at least it seems to be going right for the jugular on putting its campy premise front and center.

Then the opening theme starts up, and the part of your brain that remembers seeing the word “light novel” next to the picture of the show on anichart starts groaning. Mother’s Basement made an entire video about how interchangeable the godawful Akeboshi Rockets openings are, so I won’t get too into that; but then we get our parade of equally interchangeable cute girls with candy-colored hair, and the illusions of a possibly gritty military or political drama start slowly wafting towards the window. The rest of the OP plays out like some weird combination of a cheesy military recruitment ad and a Sword Art Online trailer. See if you can spot the split second of hideous CG dragon spliced in there as a subliminal warning.

Once the OP is over, we’re taken to this weird bit wherein a narrator introduces us to the main character as an otaku who works to support his hobby. At this point, I’ve got sirens going off in my head about where this is going. I’ve seen approximately sixty thousand different anime shows about self-defined otaku being overly adamant in their hobbies; and more often than not, I see those characters being defined entirely by the fact that they are an otaku and nothing else. The fact that this show immediately hammers us over the head with the fact that this guy is an otaku, only makes that fear more prominent. He also just kinda seems like a lazy, stupid asshole, bragging about how his hobby takes precedence over his job.

We’re then told that it’s 11:30 on a Saturday for no particular reason, before being shown around a very bright and sunny Tokyo, populated by jarring CG pedestrians, weird rotating camera angles, a totally random shot of a dropped ice cream cone with a gross lens flare in the corner, and, finally, a little girl so comically, cartoonishly, generically adorable that my immediate thought was, “what kind of terrible shit is gonna happen to her?” Just for the hell of it, some of these shots have a random, jarring and hideous split screen applied to them for no discernable reason. I have random places in Tokyo, or really what the hell the point is of any of this. no idea if all of these

When we finally reconvene with our protagonist, he has become determined to make me hate him as much as possible by having the single most boring and cliched imagination of all time. What perplexes me the most about this scene, is that the point of it is obviously to introduce us to the fact that this guy is an otaku who escapes from reality by projecting himself into his generic fantasy cell phone game–but if they were going to have a scene like this, then what the hell was the necessity of outright telling us that the main character was an otaku just a minute ago? As generic as this imaginary segment is, it’s easily a more natural way of getting us into the character’s head then just having him state the fact that he’s an otaku directly to the camera. At this point, it seems kind of redundant to include a scene like this–and the fact that it’s awkwardly paced in such a way that it feels way longer than it actually is only makes it that much weirder.

The pacing and editing of this episode, and of the show in general, is really the thing that bothers me the most about it–even beyond all of the plot and characterization and presentation stuff that I’m going to talk about. Almost every shot in this episode seems to linger just a little bit longer than it needs to–and as a result it feels unbearably slow and weirdly quiet. The fact that everything drags on in this painful and ugly way had a lot to do with why I made it so little distance into the episode the first time through, because it’s not the kind of problem that I could imagine just going away as the series goes on. Just as the directing style of Steins;Gate immediately intrigued me to that show’s unique atmosphere and tone, the directing style of Gate immediately made me want to locate the nearest kitchen utensil that I could use to gouge my eyes out.

Next we learn that this show takes place in a world wherein perfectly generic character designs can be popular enough to have ads on the sides of buses. I know that might be the most pedantic complaint I’ve ever made, but I have a lot of respect for a show that goes the extra mile in making the in-universe fiction actually believable. To go back to Steins;Gate once again, those little Oopa toys are something that I could easily imagine people actually collecting, because they’re unique and adorable. I don’t think that modern gamers are going to be wowed by monster designs which look like they’re deliberately made to convey the idea of a generic video game. I digress.

Around this point is where the editing really starts to lose me. We keep arbitrarily cutting back and forth between the place where the gate is starting to appear, and the place where our main character is getting off the train, with absolutely no sense of distance between them. Maybe if I could read these road signs and had a better knowledge of the layout of Tokyo, then I could tell how close the main guy is to where the action is gearing up; but as it stands I have no reason to even think that he’s heading in that direction, except that it makes the most dramatic sense.

If things didn’t feel random and disconnected enough already, there’s then a cut wherein the main guy is on an escalator, and then it cuts to black, and then suddenly he’s on the ground with an injury on his head. It’s quickly revealed that he hit his head on a pillar, but the first time I saw this episode, the sudden jump from the escalator to wherever this shot takes place was so jarring that I legitimately wasn’t sure what just happened. The moment is timed like a punchline, but it has no setup–it comes out of nowhere at a moment when we couldn’t even logically expect it, which elicits nothing but confusion. The weird timing of the guy’s groans as he lays on the floor seizing out just make it feel all the more gross and wrong. Then it cuts to some cinematic shots of the three cute girls from the opening, and the only way you can possibly know that the main character is supposed to be “seeing” these shots, is that we hear his voice offering reactions. I really can’t tell if these are supposed to be like visions that are being beamed into his brain or what the hell they might be, because it just looks like the OP started playing out of nowhere.

Rounding off this bit, a random guy comes to make sure that the main dude is okay, and, recognizing the otaku bullshit stickered onto his phone, asks if he’s heading to the doujin event; to which the main guy proudly acknowledges that he is. Once again, I feel like this moment is trying to tell us something which was already spelled out in that opening piece of narration. If you pulled that part out, then it would seem like this episode is wordlessly building up to the idea that this dude is an otaku–but since we were already told that at the start, the entire thing feels about as redundant as this sentence is to this video.

Over the course of the next minute or so, the tone of this episode becomes completely incomprehensible. I’m going to make the case for it now, but if you have the time, I would love it if you went and watched this scene for yourself and then tried to describe to yourself what the tone of the scene is supposed to be before I can influence your opinion of it; because I really am not sure that it’s doable. And I’m not just recommending that because I want you to sign up for a crunchyroll account by using my promo code and making me five bucks, but I certainly think it’d be cool of you to do that if you haven’t already.

So a bunch of crazy monsters and dudes with spears come barrelling into Tokyo. The scene is brightly lit with the same flat, daytime look that the show has had all along–so maybe it’s gonna go for something like, “horrifying atrocities in broad daylight.” But then we get all these really goofy shots of monsters posing and yelling, with action lines all over the place, and people with silly expressions on their faces while they run away. The monsters definitely seem to be killing people, though, even if the camera keeps cutting away before we see anything, so is this supposed to be dark, or funny, or what?

When the main guy notices that something bad is going on, he yells about how it might interfere with his doujin event, which obviously seems like a joke–but then with total seriousness, he picks up a knife and violently gores a guy. It’s not like they’re playing the viscera of this murder against the goofiness of the characters, either, because everything has this same flat directing and emotionless shot composition that doesn’t communicate anything.

I don’t think I need to remind you of how Steins;Gate made the middle of Tokyo in broad daylight feel disturbing and hazy through just clever use of color and shot compositions–but for a comparison to a show that I think was going for a similar tone and actually worked, let’s look at the first episode of Highschool of the Dead.

The opening scene of this episode is set in broad daylight, and features a dichotomy between the goofiness of a bunch of highschool girls in uniforms with giant tits flopping around, and the very serious threat of zombie action. The camera work here is kinetic and full of energy, with all kinds of unique perspective shots and visceral moments of violence; but more importantly than that, the way that the characters move and emote gives the imagery a palpable sense of urgency. Even though this situation is hilarious to us as viewers, it’s clear that this is legitimately terrifying and serious for the characters–which makes it tense and exciting.

There’s a shot in Gate wherein a bunch of terrified pedestrians are piling into the imperial palace while escaping from the attackers, and their facial expressions are like if they’d just slipped on a banana peel in a comedy scene. Compare that against the looks of utter terror on the faces of the students being attacked by zombies in Highschool of the Dead, and the depth of difference in the skills of these production teams to create a recognizable tone becomes apparent.

This was about where I stopped watching Gate when the show first came out. I could go on and on about all the little weird things, like those terrible-looking effects that they slapped onto the dust clouds, or how awkward it looks when the main guy has that dude in a headlock and the guy just doesn’t even seem to be moving, or how it keeps telling us what time it is for no discernible reason, but we could be here all day at that rate. The point is that at this moment, I realized that there was no way that I’d be willing to sit through an entire show with this look and feel–this awkward pacing, this indecipherable cinematography, and this obnoxious main character. Even if it somehow turned out that the rest of the series had a surprisingly interesting story and great writing, I think I would’ve been pretty comfortable forgoing the anime series in favor of the need be, just so I wouldn’t have to put up with this godawful presentation.

Of course, it wouldn’t really help my point that you can’t have a series that starts out bad and then gets good if it turned out that this show did get good; so I eventually watched more of it for the sake of argument, and it went about as well as I expected. Aside from the doubts which I was given by the scenes that I’ve talked about already, the rest of that first episode showed a lot manga if more of what would be wrong with the show in the long run. Let’s try and get through it .

When the JSDF finally shows up to take care of the invading army, they pretty much just mow them all down without a fight. We probably could’ve imagined that this would happen with the foot soldiers, but all these monsters and dragons are instantly demystified as the soldiers make child’s play out of wasting them. The case could be made that this was just a scout group or something, and that they weren’t fighting on their own turf, and that maybe there’s all kinds of other crazy shit waiting beyond the gate; but then in episode 2 they go into the gate and mow down 100,000 men worth of fantasy armies, and then in episode 3 they fend off a greater dragon–so this is pretty much just par for the course.

If the show had any intentions of involving some kind of interesting fantasy tactics, then it probably would’ve shown some of that in this episode to butter us up–but it didn’t, because it’s really just a show about making the JSDF look like overpowered badasses. You know, funnily enough, there was a 1979 live action film called Sengoku Jietai, or G.I Samurai, wherein a JSDF force got teleported into the sengoku era and summarily got their balls rocked by samurai tactics. They even remade it into another film and a manga adaptation in 2005, called Samurai Commando: Mission 1549. I don’t know why I know these things.

Over the course of this episode, we repeatedly see the main guy exhibiting exemplary military prowess, as well as gazing affectionately at this loli girl, clueing us into the idea that he’s got a big soft heart underneath that dumbass otaku exterior. Considering how many times this episode goes out of its way to reiterate both the idea that the main character is an otaku who cares more about his hobby than his work, as well as the idea that he’s actually a natural at his job and totally cares about people, I began to suspect that these were probably his only defining character traits, and that the show was going to remind me of them over and over again ad nauseum without adding anything new to his personality. I was right.

When the rest of the episode isn’t continuing to reiterate the points that it’s already made, it’s just flat-out wasting time. There’s almost an entire minute dedicated to a gay joke, wherein the joke is that the main guy is getting too physical with this other guy, and therefore is making him uncomfortable because he’s not gay. Riveting stuff. Later on, there’s about a minute of just gratuitous shots of tanks driving through the gate, set to completely unfitting epic music. There is no point to this scene other than to show off the tanks; but I guess that’s a pretty good indicator of the show’s priorities, considering the massive amounts of each episode which are seriously dedicated to dicking around in military vehicles. The only thing this episode doesn’t prepare you for is all the cute girls and fanservice dicking around yet to come; oh, and also that the slight subtext of nationalism is eventually going to blossom into full-blown main-text insane jingoism.

Now look, I know that a lot of people like Gate, and that they probably don’t care about none of this shit. I think for most viewers, the episode probably didn’t really start until the main character guy stabbed that soldier dude–and in that same moment, they were completely sold on everything else; and that’s fine. The people who liked this show probably didn’t even think that this episode was bad, unless they only liked it because of some specific character or plot moment that came later on. I’m a lot more of a complete package guy, myself–if my entire channel hasn’t made that obvious. Not only am I at risk in that using this episode as an example might alienate a lot of this video’s audience, but considering my reputation for not liking anything that A-1 Pictures has put out in half a decade, there’s probably already a comment on this video about how I went into this episode expecting to hate it because I’m biased and my videos aren’t very objective and I can’t believe you spent 15 minutes just reviewing the first episode of Gate I thought this video was about something other than what it’s obviously about, et cetera. So for the sake of argument, let’s also take a look at what I thought was one of the worst opening episodes of the Spring 2016 anime season–which just happened to come from the show that I was actually the most excited for going into it: Joker Game.

When it comes to the seasonal chart test, Joker Game passed with flying colors. The premise was on point: a historical spy thriller set on the cusp of World War 2–something I’ve never seen in anime before, and which I could easily imagine being badass. The character designs are sleek and stylish, yet realistic and serious, giving the impression that maybe this was going to be a fairly ambitious, gritty, and adult-oriented product. Studio Production IG has always been setting the high watermark for animation quality, with a history of having produced some of the best high-concept, mature anime in existence: from Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, and Psycho-Pass, to Eden of the East, Usagi Drop, Seirei no Moribito, and Real Drive. Even when they handle shounen and shoujo manga adaptations, they bring some of the best production design is modern anime to the table, as with Haikyuu, Kimi ni Todoke, and Kuroko no Basuke.

None of that is to say that Production IG haven’t produced their fair share of clunkers over the years, like Blood-C–but when I look at a show with visuals like this and a plot description like that being made by this studio, then I’ve got to be a little bit excited. I wasn’t familiar with any of the director’s past work, and the writer has an even split of shows that I like and dislike, so those were all a gamble; but the cast list even included a number of my favorite actors, such as Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Seki, and Kazuya Nakai. This one really looked like a winner.

The earliest cause for concern was the very first line of dialog–spoken in English by an American character with a voice actor who is obviously Japanese. I don’t want to be too harsh on this point, because it’s very common practice in anime, and the actor that they found has better English pronunciation than the vast majority do; I could understand everything that he was saying, even with the goofy vocabulary choices–but it was pretty obvious when he switched over to his foreigner voice for the Japanese lines that he’s definitely not an American guy speaking Japanese. It’s not that I think this is a huge knock against the show, but if this was going to be a seriously all-out production, like the kinds that Production IG have been known to pull in the past, then they would’ve actually hired an American actor for this role. From this point, it’s easy to conclude that this ain’t gonna be no Ghost in the Shell–or even no Eden of the East.

The opening song and video are pretty fun, and have that jazzy vibe with period-appropriate iconography, but there obviously isn’t nearly the level of vision here that we got in something like the Baccano opening. Whereas that show went for an actual jazz song, and one of the most brilliantly-edited character introduction sequences ever conceived, this one is really just a pop song with a bit of jazzy-sounding instrumentation involved, and a video comprised more of overdone visual effects than actual character. Again, this isn’t so much to say that this is a bad opening theme, as it is to say that it doesn’t speak to the kind of vision that you’d find in any of the OPs of the first four shows which I talked about in this series.

Our first dialog scene between this episode’s important characters presents a very immediate and straightforward ideological conflict–this guy is a spy, and this guy thinks that spying is a cowardly business. Coming from a show that’s about spies, it’s kind of jarring to have a our first conflict spelled out in such clear terms–but then it would be possible to think that this is a deliberate misdirect–which kind of defeats the point of a misdirect when you can see it coming. Not that it matters because it’s not a misdirect–this show is just always embarrassingly hamfisted about its messages, and the entire episode is going to be like this.

Over the next few minutes, we receive an exposition dump explaining the nature of this spy organization, concluding with an introduction to our nine-man spy team. When I first watched this episode, I was immediately struck by how strange it was that all nine spies apparently underwent the same training, all having their identities removed and their minds imbued with the exact same skillset, and that all of them basically look the exact same aside from minor differences in height, hair, and, hilariously enough, the hues of their suits. Immediately following this introduction, we see all of the spies moving in a cluster–and over the course of this episode and the next, we only ever see them operating as a group, as if they were some kind of hivemind.

This would all be well and fine, but it really clashes with the presentation of the characters in the OP, and later in the entire structure of the show, as nine different distinct cool guys with their own names. All of the spies are completely interchangeable, with personalities that do not extend beyond “is a spy.” We’ll get to this scene in a minute, but the moment that really drove home to me that this show was never going to characterize these spies at all, was when all of them laughed at the same time for the same reason. It’s one thing for all of them to have to same skillset, but at that point, they were all just basically the same guy.

After a few more minutes of rattling off exposition and really hammering in the idea that this military guy thinks that spies are dumb and weird, we finally arrive at what I would consider to be one of the most laughably badly-handled scenes in anime this year: the joker game itself. The stage is set when the military guy finds the spies all playing poker down by a bar, and he decides to join them. What follows is several minutes of the least dramatic poker montage I’ve ever seen.

We don’t really see enough of the game to follow it properly, so it’s not engaging on the level of watching a tense poker match; we don’t get enough sense of what the characters are feeling, or what kind of tactics they’re using, so it’s not engaging on the level of human drama; and most of it consists of lifeless panning shots of everyone just kinda playing the game, while unfittingly energetic music plays over it, so it’s not engaging on the level of entertainment. The only thing worth getting out of this scene is the result–that the military dude lost. You could just as easily have smash cut from the moment that he decided to play the game, to the moment that the last of his chips were being taken from him, and you would lose absolutely nothing in the narrative.

Here’s where it gets idiotic: as the military guy is leaving the room, one of the spies informs him that what he lost wasn’t really the poker game, as everyone else in the room was cheating–but the joker game, which is a chaotic roundabout of signalling, wherein the spies try to form alliances and dupe one-another until achieving victory. As a viewer, you probably figured that out, since it’s a show about a bunch of fucking spies playing a game which is already about duplicity in the first place; but the real icing on the cake is when one of the spies says that it’s “just like international politics,” because I don’t even know what a metaphor is.

First, let’s consider the actual logic of this joker game. If the game was actually a complex battle between all of the spies at the table, then why is the military guy the only one who lost? How much more interesting would it have been if he had actually won, only to learn that the reason he won is because some of the spies were working in his favor, in an evolving competition against one-another? Maybe through that, we could even get the idea that there’s a gradient in skill among the spies–or that some of them may have fucked up along the way, leading to their loss. The joker game which the spies are describing could actually have been massively interesting–but what actually seems to have happened is just that one guy was reading the military dude’s cards, and then everyone collectively fucked him over, even though he wasn’t even competing.

Next, let’s consider the presentation of this joker game. During the game, we see a few characters fumbling around with objects, which we could possibly assume was some kind of signaling. In the middle of the spy’s explanation of the game, we are then shown a bunch of other signals which apparently were used during the game, which weren’t even shown to us, so we couldn’t have ever assumed that those signals were happening while the game was being played. Even at this point, we are not invited to any context as to what any of these signals actually mean–we are only shown the fact that signalling was happening.

Now imagine if this scene had been written and directed in such a way that we could’ve watched the characters actually acting out the joker game, and then tried to pick up on who was doing what. We could try and decipher the signals ourselves, and to figure out who is on what side and what they’re trying to accomplish. It wouldn’t even have been difficult to clue the viewer into what was going on even without explaining the concept of the joker game to us first; we already know that these characters are spies, and that poker is a game about duplicity, so we would probably as would catch on immediately that something was going on, and then try to decode it for ourselves learning the truth that we’ve been aching for along the way. Instead, we get an explanation of the the scene went along. Then, when the characters finally explained what each of them was up to, we either experience the satisfaction of having our suspicions confirmed, or the satisfaction of incredibly obvious fact that spies are sneaky. Riveting stuff.

Once the game is over, the leader of the spies comes into the room and launches into what I can only describe as an explanation of what each of the characters metaphorically represents. He basically tells the main character that his values are representative of the attitude of Japan in the world of international politics over the last few years, and how the spies represent the nation’s realization of the joker game that they’ve been made a part of. I can’t help but feel like there were plenty of ways that this episode could have been written which made us realize for ourselves that the military guy was supposed to be an everyman representation of Japan’s military attitude, but instead the leader of the spies very literally spells it out. Aside from having no faith whatsoever in the viewer’s intelligence, the worst part about this entire scene is that it’s just fucking boring. It’s nothing but obvious information being relayed to the viewer by characters who are just sitting and standing around in a room doing nothing.

The rest of the episode is a pretty straightforward setup for a cliffhanger ending, leading into the joker game that the main guy will have to stake his life against in the next episode. You don’t need to watch it, because you can write the thing in your head: the main guy is gonna use what he’s learned so far to get himself out of this predicament and come to understand the spies. The end.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if I saw someone claiming that Joker Game was a perfect candidate for the three-episode test, because the real nature of its premise only becomes apparent in the third episode. Whereas the first two are mostly about framing this ideological conflict between Japan’s moral attitude of the time, and the tactics by which they would try to become a world power from there on out as a backdrop for the setting, the other episodes each focus on one spy at a time in episodic thriller scenarios all around the world.

If you watch any further, though, as I did, you’ll find that every single episode suffers from the exact same problem in their writing and presentation. The morals are always hamfisted, the plot twists never have any proper setup and just feel pointless and out of nowhere, the characters never have any personality, and the cinematography is always woefully flat, as characters sit around dumping uninteresting exposition on one-another for minutes on end. If you had the same problems with this episode that I did, then you will not enjoy the rest of Joker Game.

When you stop to think about it, it doesn’t make sense that any creative person worth their salt would let their series get off to a bad start. The opening act of a story is by far the most important in establishing its nature and hooking in the audience–and every professional writer and director is very, very acutely aware of that. You’re not going to find someone out there who’s goal in creating a story is to have people say that it “gets good later.” Not every creative project is going to come out good, and some of them may run into problems when they get rolling, but presenting a good start to a series is bound to be the top priority–especially of any producer who’s working with an expensive, mass-marked property like a TV show. Yes, it’s very possible for a series to “hit it’s stride” as it goes along–and in some incredibly rare cases, it’s possible that something might change so fundamentally between the first episode and the rest of the show that maybe in some freak accident, the first episode isn’t all that great. But I really don’t think it’s even slightly common for a great show not to display a lot of it’s greatness right from the very beginning, or for a show which starts off with lots of huge, obvious problems to suddenly become amazing at some point.

I know that a lot of what I’ve talked about here won’t have applicability to a lot of you in the audience. To some of you, watching the first three episodes of everything seems like an easy enough tradeoff to making sure that it’s going to be a good show–so why not do it? Well, the reason I don’t do it is that I know that there are hundreds and hundreds of excellent, worthwhile anime out there in existence; and I want to watch them all. Even though it’s my job to watch and talk about anime, I don’t have unlimited time to consume everything that I want to see, and I certainly don’t want to be wasting my time on a bunch of bullshit instead. I don’t trust anyone else’s opinions enough to only watch the consensus masterpieces, so the only way I can be sure that I’m gonna see everything I’ll like, is to watch absolutely everything–and if it’s possible to figure out whether I’m going to like a show before the first episode is even over, then that’s going to help a lot in saving me time in the long run.

It’s not like every show is clear-cut great or terrible right from the start–there’s a lot of shows out there which seem like they could go either way at first, and I might spend a little more time with them to see how it goes. But if a show has an episode that’s shitty enough that I can’t imagine myself liking it later, then I’m not going to sit through another two episodes because the collective anime fandom has arbitrarily concluded that that’s about how long it takes to understand the least indicative aspect of a show’s quality–it’s premise.

I hope that this series of videos has been helpful for those of you who wanted a better way of identifying a show’s quality from earlier on–and gratifying for those of you who already felt that way about watching new shows. If it was, and you’d like to help me in bringing you more content like this, then consider supporting me on patreon to keep the channel going. Subscribe to my podcast, let’s play, and vlogging channels if you want to hear my voice so much that it plays in your sleep; and as always, thanks again for watching; I’ll see you in the next one.


11 thoughts on “How to Recognize a Terrible Anime (in just one episode)

  1. I really enjoyed your article on this breakdown of initial anime epsiodes and the construction of premise. I think that while it is certainly of a particular opinion, it makes up a very clear, consise and well-constructed argument. The only criticism I would have over the video-version itself, is that as someone who happened upon your video, with all of your cuts between different animes with a continuing conversation going about over them, it’s hard for me as a viewer to discern easily which animes you are placing on different ends of your multiple spectrums (good first episode vs bad first episode, hit their stride vs don’t ever, make a good case for the three epiosde taste test vs those that do not, etc. etc.) It was just a bit unclear at portions, but otherwise very well done.

  2. Does anyone know why the comments were disabled on this video?
    Or why it’s rating is so low?
    Was it just that he insulted some anime that people liked?

    My friends and I watched it a little after it’s released, and we quite liked it. I didn’t think it was very controversial either. But then again, I may have just been brainwashed to agree with everything Digi says.

    • The show turned out to be a fairly decent and well liked show. Despite the first episode dragging its feet. and he disabled comments when people pointed out that out.

    • > Or why it’s rating is so low?
      > Was it just that he insulted some anime that people liked?
      I wasn’t listening carefully to what he said in video and skipped a lot and my English not very good to understand much while I was doing some other stuff, but as I understood he said Gate is bad and Steins;Gate is good as well as Highschool of the dead. So I voted video down because I think his taste is ridiculous. I voted Gate as 9/10 (maybe too high, but IMO it’s at least 7 or 8 out of 10), HotD is 4(5)/10 (but I finished it), and I dropped S;G on 11 episode with 3/10 (dude, have you read any good Hard Sci-Fi?)

  3. That first ep of GATE was incredibly shitty indeed. The rest was decent at least.

    The funny thing with your video is its lenght: it takes you longer to explain why this episode is shitty rather than to actually watch it X-)

    Mind you, I’m not criticizing, I love your analysis of anime, I just thought that was funny.

  4. Episode 1: A roman like fantasy iron age empire enters modern Japan and kills and kidnaps hundreds of civilians, then gets annihilated by the modern military.

    episode 2: The JDF goes into the roman like fantasy world, and only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 3: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 4: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 5: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 6: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 7: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Episode 8: only 20 modern solders annihilate 25 million roman like fantasy imperial solders within the span of 8 minuets without losing a single casualty, then maby rescue a few kidnapped civilians.

    Yah, sure, I know that may sound a bit repetitive, but does it really warrant so much hate? Does it really?

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