Is the 3-Episode Rule Sacrosanct?

Usually, when a new lineup of anime comes out, a time-honed question pops up: Is that anime worth watching? And sometimes, the answer to this question is “3-Episode Rule, bruh,”

By God knows what, fans of anime, or weebs, have long held the 3-Episode Rule as a sacrosanct standard in judging the quality of an anime. The 3-Episode Rule goes as follows:

If a certain anime still subjectively sucks after 3 episodes, drop it.

However, is it fair to judge an anime, even so to deliver a verdict of its subjective “worthiness”, simply based on the contents of the first three episodes? I don’t think so.

Basically, the 3-Episode Rule is kinda like a “trial” period for anime viewers. The viewer has 3 episodes to determine whether an anime is good or not, in which by the 3rd episode, they can either drop it or keep it. A reminder: the term “good” here refers to the subjective preferences of the individual.

Why the 3-Episode Rule though? It’s because of the sheer number of anime Japan spews out each year. KAORI noted that in 2014 alone, 322 anime titles were released. Assuming that each anime averages 24 minutes per episode with an average of 13 episodes per title, that means a normal person would need 100,464 minutes or 1,674.4 hours to watch every single title. Of course, since nobody watches anime 24/7 (if there are, I am seriously skeptical as to how the fuck you’re even alive considering the toll of sleep deprivation would be lethal), let’s assume, at best, a person might spend 4 hours watching anime per day, that would mean a person would need around 419 days, or 1 year plus a few days, to finish off all the releases in 2014. Of course, if that person were able to pull off such a feat, by the time he’s finished with anime from 2014, a new batch of 2015 anime would already be released. This would mean the person would be trapped in a never-ending cycle of watching anime. Just as the capitalists in the industry would want.

See my point there? The 3-Episode Rule spawned out of the inability of the normal person to digest so much anime per season. Thus, they needed a litmus test, to know if what they’re watching is good. It’s more reasonable to taste-test a small chunk of the anime and see how it goes, rather than gobbling up the entire series and then feeling an absence of God afterwards.

In a way, the 3-Episode Rule does seem to help people form an impression of an anime. People have limited time and attention spans, yet they want to watch good anime without wasting their time. Thus, they turn to the 3-Episode Rule. It saves them time and effort and internet bandwith.

However, things become problematic when the 3-Episode Rule is enshrined as a God-given rule that has to be obeyed no matter what. Like an eleventh Commandment. For example, Jurnal Otaku Indonesia has a column titled “3-Episode Rule” where they review anime after 3 episodes and then pass out a verdict on whether the anime is watchable or not. What really irks me is their 3-Episode Rule of the anime Hundred. 2016-05-06 21-20-04.png
This is a verdict based on watching only 3 episodes of an anime.

“Don’t waste your time/Go watch something else”. Really now? The anime has only been airing for 3 episodes. 3 fucking episodes. Earlier in the review, the writer writes that there are serious problems with the story, the premise, and the plot. Like, the anime doesn’t explain what Hundreds are, where  Of course there would be problems, jackass. The anime hasn’t even dipped into the main arc yet! Normally, it takes around 5-6 episodes for an anime to finally establish its story and/or signature. For some anime, you’d need to watch it even longer to understand a lot of the shit that happens. Take Madoka Magica for example. It took like 5 episodes for the story to finally make sense. Some anime take even longer to establish a strong story, such as Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso and Sakurasou.

I wouldn’t be able to see Nao’s innocent smile if I dropped Charlotte at episode 3.

See, the major problem with the 3-Episode Rule is that it is a grossly oversimplified arbitrary standard that is applied on ALL anime despite of length and genre. If I were to fully follow the tenets of the 3-Episode Rule, then I would be missing out on the amazing yet terribly confusing time-travel hoolah of Steins;Gate just because I thought that the “story wasn’t fully established” after 3 fucking episodes. Or I could’ve missed out on all the funny jokes of Nozaki-kun simply because I decided to drop it after 3 episodes, when it finally established itself as an episodic comedy. Or, I could’ve missed out on all the fucking feels and heartbreak of Boku Dake ga Inai Michi just because I decided to leave it after 3 episodes, in which these 3 episodes were just an introduction arc. Kill la Kill looked like a total dump of an anime in its first 3 episodes, yet it performed spectacularly after episode 4.

Of course, the 3-Episode Rule does work with some anime, especially anime with cookie-cutter plot and characters, like your usual harem romance comedy; but for the more intricate or episodic anime, it just doesn’t work.

I used to follow the 3-Episode Rule, like 2-3 years ago. But then I decided to change my viewing habits after thinking about how stupid it was. I shifted to the “Median Rule”, in which I watched the anime until half the total amount of the episodes for that season. If the anime had 12 episodes, I’d rethink my life choices at the 5th or 6th episode mark. If I liked it, then I would continue. If not, then I would simply stop watching.

The Median Rule works for both the anime and the viewer. Since the time frame for assessment is longer, the anime has a better chance of conveying what it wants to convey to the viewer. The viewer, without being influenced by an arbitrary fixed number (the Median Rule’s half-point increases proportionally with the length of the anime), then has time to assess the anime with a cooler head and better judgment. Also, by not fixating on an arbitrary number, the viewer watches the anime in a more relaxed and enjoyable manner.

My Median Rule worked especially during my viewing of Charlotte. It worked because Charlotte‘s story only became firmly established during the 6th episode turning point which effectively split the anime into 2 distinguishable arcs and planted the roots of the overarching story firmly into the ground. Imagine if I had dropped it at the 3rd episode mark, just because I thought the story was repetitive. I would’ve lost such a heartwarming tale of friends and feels and an allegory of teenage life.

An interesting part of the Median Rule is, since I wasn’t fixated on reaching a certain threshold, there was less pressure in dropping an anime. If I felt that an anime sucked, I would just forget to download it every week. I would then keep downloading the anime that has fully hooked my interest, which is usually 2-3 titles per season. But that’s just me.

All in all, I think the 3-Episode Rule is fucking stupid. It has its merits sometimes, but it’s mostly stupid. It’s an arbitrary standard set by God knows whom. The 3-Episode Rule doesn’t provide a chance for longer anime to present its story. It gets even worse when “reviewers” try to pass a verdict of an anime despite not having watched the entirety of it. Thus, weebs shouldn’t consider it sacrosanct. It’s more of a suggestion rather than a rule.

More opinions:

  • “Where did you learn the 3 episode rule?” – Reddit
  • Screw the 3 episode rule – YouTube



2 thoughts on “Is the 3-Episode Rule Sacrosanct?

    1. Part of the joy of watching anime is the process of discovery. If you depend too much on reviews written by other people (emphasis on “too much”), then you’ll just be another person who watched anime X just because someone else said it was good.

      Despite people telling me anime Y (Y being an anime I am currently watching) is a crapfest, in the end, I have the final say on whether the anime was crappy or not.


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