With the winter season well underway, most fans have their watchlist pretty well set. Different folks have different ways of determining which shows to drop, but a common heuristic (and one I also use occasionally) is the “3-episode” rule. The rationale goes like this: by the 3rd episode, you should have a good idea of the anime’s story, goals and overall tone and presentation, so you can better decide whether to drop it or continue it without regretting your decision. As with all heuristics, the 3-episode rule is far from perfect, but today, in the spirit of fun, I’m going to try to apply it to my favorite anime. What if I was watching X weekly, and gave it the 3-episode rule? Would I have:

  • demanded the next episode NOW?

  • continued it weekly?

  • put it on hold, especially in a busier season?

  • or dropped it?

Let the speculation begin!

Note: the anime here are organized by the order in which I first watched them.

1. Cowboy Bebop

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A battle of wits always adds to the coolness factor

Cowboy Bebop begins with episodic adventures showcasing the coolness of Spike, with Faye as a femme fatale stealing the spotlight for episode 3. Although I wouldn’t have been hooked, I think the coolness factor would’ve kept me from entirely ignoring it.

Verdict: Let’s see how it goes.

2. Madoka Magica

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hehe

Madoka Magica seems to be perfectly crafted for the 3-episode rule. A seemingly normal magical girl series gets turned on its head by a certain plot twist at the end of episode 3. Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky, friendship-saves-the-day atmosphere is gone. From this point on, actions and decisions would have heavy consequences. I would have been riveted to my seat, wondering how the girls would cope with this twist, and what implications it would have on the magical girl system.

Verdict: I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE NOW

3. Baccano!

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Best couple

Baccano is primarily an action-thriller, with interweaving plotlines promising gangs and immortals and train robberies. Although the first three episodes were a bit confusing, the plotline about immortals would have kept me interested. Also, I would’ve watched the show for Isaac and Miria alone. Those two are just too adorable.

Verdict: Let’s see how it goes.

4. Haibane Renmei

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A lived-in world

The first half of Haibane Renmei is a series of episodic adventures exploring each character and a facet of the wondrous world. It’s calm and relaxing, and I would’ve welcomed it each week.

Verdict: let’s watch it weekly, no rush.

5. Usagi Drop

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D’awww

The show is so warm and fuzzy, especially in the early episodes with Daikichi learning the sacrifices necessary for work-life balance and Rin learning to trust people after a traumatic childhood event. I would have been eagerly awaiting this adorable guardian-child duo every week.

Verdict: I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE NOW.

6. Revolutionary Girl Utena

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This got stuck in my head though

Revolutionary Girl Utena begins with a duel-of the week style introduction of the main characters and their motivations, but it is a show that almost demands rewatching to piece together all the details into coherent narratives and themes. The instant-gratification episodes (i.e. the ones where the anime dunks on Nanami) don’t show up until episode 6 and 8, so I wouldn’t have been too enthusiastic on my first watch.

Verdict: put on hold, especially in a busier season.

7. Kyousougiga

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Beautifully tragic

I have a soft spot for family-friendly heartwarming shows, and the premiere of Kyousougiga would’ve had me hooked. The second episode wasn’t bad but didn’t stand out to me, and I wasn’t a big fan of how the third episode focused on Shouko’s zany adventures without tangible stakes. Nevertheless, I probably would’ve watched it weekly to see how it goes.

Verdict: let’s see how it goes.

8. Shirobako

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The beauty of creation

I originally marathoned the first seven episodes of Shirobako at a watch party, so they felt like a blur. I remember enjoying the “I’ve been there” feeling, watching the studio struggle to meet deadlines: it’s satisfying to see professionals experience the same struggle we did in high school and undergraduate studies. If I had watched it weekly, I think highlight would have been the end of the second episode, where the group, through bringing Arupin’s character to life, resolves their miscommunication and reaffirms their passion for their work.

Verdict: I’m glad to have this every week.

9. Hyouka

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The ineffable bond

The first of KyoAni’s “quiet character drama with gorgeous presentation” work on my list, Hyouka begins with a mix if mundane mystery-of-the week episodes and gorgeous set pieces hinting at an ineffable bond between our two protagonists. The mysteries and Oreki’s snark would have had me gladly watching it weekly.

Verdict: I’m glad to have this every week.

10. Hibike! Euphonium

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Spine-chillingly beautiful

The other “gorgeous KyoAni character drama” on the list, this is cheating because I did watch the first season weekly, and I remember it didn’t reach “masterpiece” status for me until episode 8. Nevertheless, the band drama gave me fond memories of former group projects, and Reina’s trumpet solo and scream at the end of episode 3 was such a beautiful set piece that I knew this show was capable of something special.

Verdict: I watched this weekly, but it wasn’t until episode 8 that I started eagerly awaiting each new installment.

11. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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I picked up Rakugo Shinjuu a few episodes in because of the hype on aniTwitter. If I had watched it weekly, I think the aniTwitter hype would’ve kept me watching it, although the abrupt shift into Kikuhiko’s backstory and the slow burn would’ve dampened my enthusiasm. I didn’t appreciate until much later the conflict and angst between the main characters.

Verdict: put on hold in a busier season, but keep up to fit in with the cool kids.

Wrap-up

Looking at this list, it seems like most of my favorites kept me entertained by their third episode, but didn’t reach masterpiece-levels until late into their run. I think that’s fine. I can hardly expect every anime I pick up to be a masterpiece, so I shouldn’t feel obliged to stick with an anime if I don’t enjoy it. At the same time, those anime that do end up becoming my favorites don’t usually have stellar opening acts, meaning that if I do enjoy an anime that I’m watching weekly, I should stick with it until it ends or jumps the shark.

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