Actually, “It Gets Better, I Swear” is a Legitimate Defense

This warms my heart, but I hate to think what's going to happen to Charlotte.

I know the favourite retort of Scamp, from The Cart Driver, right now is “it gets better, I swear” as a way to dismiss any claims that his criticism of a given series that has either previously aired or is an adaptation are shortsighted. The problem with this as a counter-criticism is that “it gets better” is actually legitimate more often than he’d like to admit. Scamp and I vary drastically as far as our policies on dropping anime go. He’ll generally trial the first episode of everything except the most obvious of garbage, while I only drop anime out of utter despair, and am more than willing to tolerate dreck once in a while (whatever doesn’t kill you, etc). Back in the day, I too would try a swathe of new shows at the outset of the season, but even then I considered dropping an anime akin to surrender. These days, I’m a bit more finicky and discriminating with my first up choices, and inclined to listen to reviews about what I’ve missed. (This post contains moderate spoilers for the tagged titles.)

My behaviours and policies haven’t evolved randomly. Looking back to the time, almost a decade ago, when I first started anime watching as a hobby, there was a commonality in a significant sample of the shows I watched: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Azumanga Daioh and Berserk. None of them had what I considered to be very absorbing first episodes. Yet, I have no qualms calling these shows “classics” now. On the other side of the coin, I was enraptured by the first episodes of .hack//SIGN, Noir and Witch Hunter Robin, but walked away from all unsatisfied. The trend seemed clear: plot heavy series don’t show their true colours in the first act, but save the biggest plot twists and punches for when it really matters: the end. Similarly, a sense of familiarity – whether it be characters, tone or style – is requisite for enjoying slice-of-life series, and this is something that can only be properly fostered with time and a handful of episodes.

Series with a front-ended focus are strong to begin with because the hook is paramount, but they often resort to gimmicks or superficialities to draw their audience in, which can unravel and end up looking pretty vacant, especially if the writing isn’t up to scratch. How many mystery series can you remember that start off by posing an intriguing question, only for it to be resolved with a disappointing answer, or forgotten completely? (*cough* Fractale *cough*) How many romance series start off filled with tension and charm, only to become tiresome because the relationship doesn’t go anywhere for the next twenty episodes? (*cough cough* Ai Yori Aoshi, Kaichou wa Maid-sama! *splutter*) How many action series pack their first few episodes with explosions, only to run through their budgets before half time? (*bleeerrgghhh* Fate/Stay Night *vomit all over everything*) In my mind, a good first episode invites excitement, but also wariness. The law of averages, along with my own experience, implies that the show usually won’t maintain the same quality for its entire run.

But, I’d much rather discuss anime that improve, and make their biggest impacts in the latter arcs. Here are a small handful of examples, but if you know if any others, please add them in the comments. Proving Scamp wrong is my other favourite hobby, and any additional ammunition for my argument is certainly welcome. I also have another theory that I want to test, which is that the oft-invoked “three episode test” used by people who do drop anime regularly is more likely to work for recent series than it is for older series. Perhaps it’s merely a perception thing, aided by the fact that I’ve been watching anime for a while now, but I’ve found genuinely pleasantly surprising anime more rare now, but series that end disappointingly just as common (possibly even more so) as they’ve always been. I think Akira‘s explanation for why adapted anime and/or series with limited runtimes and the tenuous possibility of a sequel get shonky endings makes sense. After all, you can’t make future profits from a series that’s had an unambiguous finish. Unfortunately, that means limp-wristed, meaningless open endings are more likely to be rewarded. At the same time, anime needs to work within twenty minute attention spans, which might explain the pressure on a series to either hook the audience straight away or not at all. The meticulous slow building mystery that blows its audience away with a sequence of climactic plot twists in the final three or so episodes isn’t a dead dinosaur… but it’s not a populous genre either, and not one nearly as prominent as it was in the past (say, turn of the century), I suspect. Anyway, let’s get empirical and discuss some examples.

In all honesty, it'd be rare to see an anime that looked like this nowadays.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

Arguably the series that legitimized and popularized the horror anime genre, and brought mystery visual novel conversions into vogue. Ironically, it was thanks to Scamp that I recently reflected on my own first thoughts on Higurashi, because, as ashamed as I am to admit it, they weren’t dissimilar to his. When Higurashi first aired in 2006, it came shortly after the reprehensible Shuffle! and Nakahara Mai, who voiced Rena, had just finished playing the lead female role in one of the most unfunny harem anime I’ve ever seen, Kage Kara Mamoru!, which is only remembered now for the “Banana Song“. Having these two series in recent memory did no favours for my first impression of Higurashi – the yandere element reminded me of Shuffle! while Rena reminded me of Yuna from Kage Kara Mamoru! – and that was on top of the woeful animation that didn’t improve until Kai and the flippant humour that’s purpose as a counter-point to the horror didn’t make sense until subsequent arcs. I’m so glad I stuck with it. I honestly don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s a defining work of the genre.


My-HiME‘s premiere was a mish-mash of generic cliches that, these days, we’d probably refer to as “tropes”. But, it built things up, giving time for us to get to know its characters and understand their relationships, and allowing a number of subplots to simmer and bubble just under the surface. “It gets better, I swear” is hardly ever more relevant than for describing this show, because even up to ep 16, frivolous distractions such as karaoke cosplay sessions happened semi-regularly. And this came after episodes involving panty goblins and baking contests. But when the fan was struck in the head behind play by shit, the mood changed drastically, thanks to a single revelation by the malevolent Nagi. A frantic conflict followed, but the reason it was so dramatic was because of the high stakes, and the fact that all HiMEs fought to protect a loved one, which meant that emotions ran high. It wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t understand the relationships in the lead-up, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as surprising if the revelation had come in the first arc, as opposed to the last. If only the anticlimactic final episode didn’t ruin it completely.

Not a dry eye in the house. Mine weren't either.


Finally, a more recent example. Moshidora is another series that has a rather drastic change in tone after a well-timed, well-executed plot twist near the end. What starts out as a logical, if gimmicky series about an unlikely hypothetical turns into an extremely moving emotional drama about coping with death. The change in tone works because, up until this stage, the characters have been presented in a sympathetic and believable way. Minami, in particular, carries the show with her down-to earth sense of honesty and reason. The general responses to Moshidora have struck me as strange in their negativity and cynicism. Perhaps the initial premise of mixing a particular style of business theory with baseball stretches suspension of disbelief further than some people were willing to cede, or perhaps people just didn’t find the idea all that interesting. Nonetheless, the style of grounded melodrama that came after the show moved its focus away from Drucker, and towards the human element, is something I’d love to see more often in the medium, and I’d strongly argue that it’s rare to see it executed better in anime than it was in Moshidora.

35 Responses to “Actually, “It Gets Better, I Swear” is a Legitimate Defense”

  1. I don’t know about you, but episode 1 of Bebop is excellent and well above average even for the series. Sold me immediately.

    As for the main argument you make, I don’t disagree entirely. It’s a bit of a “you watch what you like” sort of thing, and there is a sense where you are investing for a bigger payoff later on in the series. That value judgment is going to vary from person to person.

    But with that said I kind of disagree with all your examples.
    1. The payoff with Higurashi is 4-5 episodes in. That hardly qualifies “it gets better” except for the attention-deficit, immediate-gratification crowd. And even so it drops hints, bread crumbs, if you will, all throughout the way to the end of the first reset.
    2. My-Hime is also another show that is pretty solid all the way up to the half way point. I’m sure you are not alone, as in, some people watched it for the plot twists in the second half of the series. But I think a lot of the good rep it got was from people who liked the silly parts just as much, if not more so, than the somewhat-contrived drama involved with the plot device. Again, maybe it “gets better” for some people, but I kinda disagree it was bad to begin with.
    3. Moshidora…never gets better. There is an emotional payout at the end in which the least hated character in the show gets a tough plot twist, but it stands out partly because the rest of the series was just so dull. Actually I disagree with you the least here, mainly because it is a “payout” for the hard work of enduring the series up to that point.

    I think “it gets better” is a valid defense to the extent that you have to weight the balance of how good that twist or climax is, versus what you have to put yourself through. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not.

  2. The problem I have with your proposal is that you presume series are either on a downward or an upward trend in relation to time. Don’t forget that series have different narrative structures, and that most of the time the core of the show is what takes up the majority of our time. Most anime series turn into disappointments because most anime don’t have satisfying endings (otaku tastes are too specific for every series to hit home). While I am no fan of Scamp, in this day and age the audience expects anime series to come up with captivating beginnings, and I personally feel like the creators don’t do enough if they manage to fuck it up. Sure, it feels rewarding if a weak start leads to a strong ending, but like most reactions to anime, it’s a purely psychological response, and not a mark of a quality show. Madoka was so well received because it had a strong beginning and the ending leveled up to it. Madoka’s core was, despite quality craftsmanship, very bland if not boring. So to say anime gets better and you swear on your mother’s grave, that’s all fine and dandy and I’m not going to dispute that, but I’m going to question your quality standard nonetheless.

  3. I think comparing Higurashi, Cowboy Bebop, Azumanga and Mai-Hime to Pretty Cure Splash Star is not right, when you know that those above a praised classics, and they only had “mediocre” first episodes (whatever that means, I loved the first episodes of Azumanga and Cowboy Bebop, and while Azumanga stays good, Cowboy Bebop get’s amazing later on.). I can understand that Scamp doesn’t want to sit through Magical Girl episodes that always repeate the same crap over and over. I mean, even if the it’s later better that doesn’t make the episodes before any better. One does not want to watch a lot of painful episodes for a relativly good ending. Seriously, when you are finally there, you will already be cynical and jaded and hate this show, and a good wrap-up can not change that much, especially when this show has no likeably characters and is very long. And a mystery will fail if it’s not properly build up.
    And if a series has only a mediocre start, or is maybe promising more, I don’t think Scamp would drop it that easily. Just look at how many series he watches this spring. And actually, not a lot people would have the time to not drop ANY series they started, especiallly when this series starts of as shit.

  4. cyth is right, it’s all down to you: the viewer. One person’s weak beginning is another’s bread and butter (like our difference in opinion about Bebop’s first episode). However, given the amount of choice we have to watch anime (and other forms of entertainment), cyth’s final statement is more important: do you trust the person’s judgement?

    It’s certainly a reasonable approach for ranking anime, to add in other’s opinions on whether a show gets better (at least, if you’re willing to grow to like something). Since so much anime is utter rubbish, it’s always better to know that some like-minded person thought one of them “got better” over time, then it is to go in blind.

    For example, I’d take a Kobato over a Railgun anyday. But based on the first episode or two, I thought both would be fillery crap with no redeeming value. So I went with the popular one initially, until I heard that Kobato was getting better. And you know what? I did enjoy it, and felt that my time investment was (barely) worth it, unlike Railgun.

    But again, I had the time to waste. If you know like-minded people have been bored with it for half the series, that might be time you’d rather not invest.

  5. Speaking of baseball-themed anime, I’m currently watching Ookiku Furikabutte. I’m only halfway through the first season, but based on what I’ve seen and what others have said, I think this, too, might apply. I was not at all entranced by the characters and plot of the first half-a-dozen episodes, but since then have become addicted. With big games ahead, I’m anticipating stronger and stronger plot development.

  6. I think “it gets better, I swear!” works up to a point, but after that point, it’s not really valid. Generally, I think a lot of anime watchers don’t have the time to wait for something to get dramatically better after a certain point. If, say, a 13-episode series isn’t good after 6 or 7 episodes, then why should people stick with it unless the ending really blows you away? If half of a 26-episode series is bad but the second half good, can anyone really be faulted for dropping it before then? I don’t think so, especially if a show is of a story type or style that just doesn’t appeal to a view.

    Scamp universally shitting on “It gets better, I swear!” is ridiculous, but only because the point at which that argument ceases to be valid differs from person to person. Hell, for me, I don’t even have a consistent internal barometer for when I invoke that defense, except to say that if something about a show falls in line with what interests me, then I’m more willing to give it a shot. Kobato. (which I didn’t finish) might be a better show than Fractale (which I did finish and disliked), but there are more aspects of Fractale that appeal to me than there are in Kobato., and thus I judged one more worthy of my time than I did the other.

    People just have different standards for what is “good” and what is “bad”, and for how much bad they’re willing to tolerate to get to the good.

  7. The tendency of all shows is to get better with time. A show that keeps the same level of ‘quality’ for 13 episodes would be considered boring by most, and a show that “gets better, I swear” is a show that builds on top of previous experiences every episode.

    Higurashi is a prime example of escalating the experience, with every arc building on top of the previous one and gradually giving you more knowledge, but this can be observed in almost everything. Some use plot to do this, others use characters but in the end the effect is the same.

  8. u mad

  9. OK, real comment this time

    The reason I started “it gets better, I swear!” is because people said it about shows that ultimately never changed their focus. It got better at doing what it was already doing, but if the person who dropped it didn’t like that originally, they’re not going to enjoy watching it continue on the same track. But people, when reading an account from why the person dropped it, totally ignore the reasoning and simply go by their own opinions of how the show continues from that episode onwards.

    In other words, I wouldn’t tell anyone who hated the first episode of Madoka because they claimed it had clunky attempts at symbolism and incredibly dull characters, because that opinion isn’t going to change even when the show does get better.

  10. For the most part, “It Gets Better, I swear” would apply most of the time… A recent example of Nichijou reminds me of this, the jokes were mediocre in the first few episodes but got more enjoyable as it progressed. While I think this is a good defense, it could backfire as we seen with Fractale and it’s wasted potential at the end with all bets off after the last couple episodes. It merely depends on two things, the length of the series and the viewer themselves. The perceptions of the series are going to depend heavily on the person because opinions and tastes are going to vary. There may be some people who just enjoy it regardless of how horrible the show is…

    As for the three episode taste test from my experience, 99% of the time I do not drop a show unless it’s completely unwatchable (e.g. Yosuga no Sora and Rio: Rainbow Gate comes in mind). Then again, three episodes is not always a good indicator on how the series is going to be since the general consensus that a show can get better later on. Then again, I’m lenient, so I really don’t want to drop unless I really have to.

  11. I really think it is a poor defense for any show. If it gets better, well it gets better. The fact is though, that if you didn’t enjoy those first episodes originally, you just didn’t enjoy them. That is a flaw that one cannot look past.

    It’s like saying that Revenge of the Sith is going to somehow make Clone Wars retroactively good.

    There’s a difference between a show that has confusing/unclear plot elements that don’t necessarily grab you at first, but make sense later on, and a show that is just plain bad, but becomes rather entertaining later.

    Moshidora started out flat, was mildly entertaining in the middle, and was great at the end, but I never thought the end redeemed the rather flat beginning it presented me.

  12. “It gets better, I swear” is a perfectly fine and reasonable defense of an anime. Some are right that those who already didn’t like may not like the improvements anyway, but that doesn’t mean that the show itself didn’t get better. The defense isn’t nullified because of one individual numbskull’s inability to appreciate the changes.

    However, I will say this, sometimes the appreciation of the improvements is a REWARD for sticking it out. You’re going to get a much stronger sense of satisfaction if your patience is rewarded than if you just come back to it because someone else says so. The struggle is it’s own reward, or something.

  13. I’m a massive fan of ‘Cowboy Bebop’, but I actually agree about the first episode. When I saw it I wasn’t particularly impressed at all — it was definitely distinctive, but it didn’t really seem to move things along or give me something concrete to grasp. (I’m planning to rewatch it soon and see if my opinion changes with hindsight.) I kept watching, however, because I’d heard how good the series apparently was. I thought it was a bit of a mixed bag right up until the final three episodes, which completely sold me. It definitely feels like a series that builds up very slowly and saves its most powerful punches for the final rounds.

    In regard to this issue as a whole, I’m one of those people who find it easy to drop something if it’s not interesting me at all. I normally don’t have the patience to sit through episodes of rubbish while hanging on to promises of it getting better later on. If there are flashes of interesting things here and there then I’m willing to wait a little longer for the good stuff, though. (This was my experience with ‘Babylon 5’, which had a notoriously weak opening season but really built up stream afterwards.)

  14. I think 5camp’s right in this case. The only series that you can argue “gets better” are those that improve on the weaker points earlier in the show, so if you can avoid using that as a justification, you should. But I also think that there are far more series that get better than may be considered.

    Take for example Mai-HiME. I definitely think you can approach the series from two directions. You can argue that the first half of the show set the ground work for the later plot twists, like Sorrow-kun does. But at the same time, I can’t help but think you can make an equally justified argument more along 5camp’s lines (I’m not sure of his actual opinion on the anime, so forgive me here.) and say that they sacrificed moving the plot along for some character development in the form of superfluously cute fanservice. Both arguments here can work.

    What it comes down to is whether or not you think a good ending outweighs a bad beginning, or if the minor failures of the beginning can be disregarded if the overall series is good enough. In this sense, I agree wholeheartedly with Reckoner.

    One last point. I think it’s bogus to drop anime, period. You never know what the ending’s going to be like, so you can’t predict if the show’s going to be good or not. You should selectively choose series, and never choose to drop one of them. If you think you don’t have enough time to watch all the shows in the season, you can’t have your cake and eat it by just assuming you can guess which shows are good or not with some “three episode test”.

  15. Apparently me and Sorrow-kun take a similar approach to new seasons. I very rarely drop a show entirely. Usually it’s either out of complete despair, as Sorrow-kun noted, or simply because I took on too large a load.

    In that case, I plan on coming back and finishing it later. That’s what happened last season with both Kore wa Zombie Desu ka and Infinite Stratos (Although I probably could have done without actually finishing IS). I waited until I had some free time, and then caught up on the two of them, which I had dropped halfway through last season.

    As far as “It gets better”, I think both sides have valid points. Often, a show that starts out rather slow ends up being well worth my time, as with the examples Sorrow-kun gave. The reverse also happens, as with Fractale. At the same time, 5camp has a point in that while many shows improve on what was already good, if you didn’t like the characters in Madoka to begin with, you probably won’t like them at the end either.

    In the end, if you found a show enjoyable, it as worth watching. I personally think a lot of people have far too high standards for anime, but that’s usually because they just don’t have time to watch average-quality anime.

  16. “It Gets Better, I Swear” is a legitimate defense when it comes from a trustworthy source like myself.

    Higurashi’s opening scene has Kei beating two girls to death with a baseball bat. I was hooked.

  17. @omo
    Respectfully (but completely) disagree with your assessment of Moshidora. One of the best anime dramas I’ve seen this year, IMO. Probably no point trying to reconcile our viewpoints on that one. On Higurashi, you’re right, even two episodes in it was clear that it wasn’t going to be 26 episodes of just schadenfreude humour, moe and bad animation. Higurashi is an extreme example of how misleading first impressions can be, and it was a very deliberate ploy on its part to be misleading, but I think the hype machine behind it was always strong enough to convince most who dropped it to give it a second chance. But an example of something that was floating around at about the same time which engendered similar reactions was Narutaru, and this never had the same benefits of a sizable fanbase that Higurashi had. I distinctly remember forum posts from people who dropped it after one episode, calling it “Pokemon crap”. It was simultaneously sad and hilarious. The thing about something like Narutaru, though, is, if you try to offer reasons for why it gets better, you kinda spoil the surprise of it all.

    It’s all well and good to debate quality, (it is something, that, IMO should be encouraged, rather than everyone hiding behind the defense of “individual taste”, but that’s a discussion for another time), but my point is that it’s much more sensible to have a quality debate when everyone is on an even keel as far as exposure goes. Which, in anime circles, tends to be after the series is over. And while you’re definitely right that audiences expect series to be captivating right from word go, I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing for storytelling. There seems to be massive pressure on anime makers to ensure that the beginnings of shows are good, but no where near the same pressure on demanding the same thing of endings (if anything, there’s almost a reluctant acceptance that endings tend to be disappointing, especially if there’s a prospect of a sequel). My opinion is that it should be the other way around. The note a series ends on is much more resonant than the note it starts on.

    When the Higurashi anime started the visual novel wasn’t well known in English speaking circles, so whatever hype there was about the series was pretty much filtered from whatever snippets of Japanese reactions to the source that somehow made it onto the Western side of the internet (these were the days pre-Twitter, etc, when the Eastern and Western sides of the internet were somewhat walled off from each other). Also, don’t forget, when Higurashi and Azumanga, and even Bebop, first came out, they were fairly novel series in genres that were just burgeoning. Yes, neither Bebop or Azumanga drastically changed from the beginning (although Bebop had some great plot twists littered throughout), but they were both style intensive series, and that particular style was something, in my experience, that took an episode or two to get into.

    The thing about “it gets better, I swear” is that, in an ideal world, one in which we all had infinite time to watch anime, we wouldn’t need to use it, because no one would drop anime before “it got better”. Also, it probably isn’t a stretch to say the defense is, in itself, a spoiler. I guess that explains why it’s such a vague statement. The reward for sticking with something that gets better is the surprise that it does get better. If you disclose the reasons why it gets better, you spoil the surprise.

    I’m big on anime that reward loyalty. It is something that baseball series have a knack for doing. I haven’t seen Ookiku Furikabutte myself, but yeah, this is something I’ve heard as well.

    But who defines that point? In fact, I’d say your comparison between Fractale and Kobato is a prime example why the only perfectly consistent marker for when to give up on a show is after it’s finished. As we know, Fractale never got better, yet the intriguing questions it posed was a sufficient reason for you to stick through with it. However, it was a front-ended series that was more interested in grabbing your attention than rewarding it. Ultimately, the mystery and the philosophical questions it posed were a vapid bait-and-switch to keep you watching. Kobato, on the other hand, was completely back-ended, as it turned into a rewarding and heartfelt drama about coping with loss in the final few episodes. The signs that it was going to take this path were only apparent in hindsight. The impressions given in the first act of both shows weren’t reliable gauges for what would happen in the end. But I have no question about which experience I found more rewarding.

    I’m more inclined to say that “the tendency of good shows is to get better with time.” As I said above, the pressures on anime writers seem to act in a way as to encourage front-ended hooks. I definitely agree with you that good storytelling is all about building on what you’ve established earlier. I’m not so convinced that everyone involved in anime, fans and creators alike, have thought this idea through to its logical conclusions.

    Yeah, but surely you can see why they think their opinions are more valid since they stuck with the show all the way through and have a complete impression. I’ll spare you the lectures on intertwined story threads and anime being more than the sum of its parts because I’m sure you understand all this. I’ll just say that the door swings both ways. I’d say I’m much more certain that Infinite Stratos sucks than someone who dropped it half way through, or someone who’s only just starting it. At the very least, I’m sure I have better reasons for my opinion.

    I don’t think Yosuga no Sora is a good series, but the great irony of it is that it is a show that gets better. It doesn’t get good though… it just gets better (it did start off terribly). While I don’t agree with your perception of Nichijou (I enjoyed the earlier episodes more than the recent ones), it’s an example of how a style can grow on you. I know for a fact that Scamp doesn’t disagree with this line of reasoning because he’s used it himself for The Legend of Galactic Heroes.

    Yeah, but this strikes me as a “sum of parts” argument. The issue is, how do you know that difference without actually seeing things through to the end? If you wait for other people to tell you “it gets better”, arguably, you’ve allowed yourself to be spoiled. My argument is that the first act(s) of an anime can be misleading. More often than not, it leads to disappointment, but the series that do improve to the point where uninteresting, disparate plot threads weave and unite into something surprising (without you have any clue that it’s going to happen), are among the most rewarding experiences one can have with anime.

    Hooray, someone who gets it! I will say that you were the person who inspired my “no drop” policy. I remember you sticking fast with Shuffle! all those years ago and thinking with a crapload of respect, yes, this is how you watch anime.

    It’s slippery style being an appeal isn’t something that was immediately obvious back in the day, either when it first aired, or when I first watched it, coming into anime as a newbie. But, by ep 2, I was hooked. Also, while flashes of interesting things can be a sign of good things to come, it’s not really a reliable sign. That’s my issue. It’s much more reliable/consistent just to watch the thing, and form a concrete judgement only after you’ve finished.

    I guess the counter argument to this (and, it’s not one I actually agree with, so I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate here), is that the three episode test is more reliable than a judgement based on a seasonal preview/synopsis. My opinion is that neither judgement is reliable. I guess the discussion has to make a practical turn, which is why I like to consider the duty/standards of a reviewer. As a reviewer, you’re going to have an impression about what you watch, but in my opinion, that impression must be fluid and not concrete until the show has finished (which is why I never specify a MAL rating of a show I’m still watching). That’s the easiest way to ensure fairness and consistency. After that, it comes down to a debate about taste, interpretations and analysis, but at least that’s a debate where everyone is on an even keel, and all participants have access to (approximately) the same information from the anime itself. That’s why I think if you’re going to watch something, and have an opinion on it, it’s better to stick with it. It’s also why we don’t have reviews of incomplete series on the front page. Pretty much every impression we post of an incomplete series comes along with an implicit rider: “opinions may change as the series goes on.” However, I disagree with your other point. A good ending always outweighs a bad beginning, because the ending is the most resonant note.

    Ultimately, I guess it’s a debate about time investment. Some people value time more than being rewarded for loyalty. I happen to think that a pleasant surprise is one of the most rewarding experiences in anime. The fact that it’s a more rare thing these days makes the experience of digging through dreck even more rewarding.

    Yes, but it was such a short scene, and barely got any focus with respect to all the other stuff going on in the first ep. Don’t forget, this was back in the day when Shuffle! was the most popular show going around with a yandere.

  18. I just want to point out a couple of things:
    1) “It gets better” should be distinguished from shows that have an abrupt change in tone. Distinguished as in “orthogonal to”, not as in “disjoint with”. To give an example, I think Haibane Renmei was absolutely perfect, that is it didn’t “get better”, it did, however, undergo a change in tone.

    2) To be fair “it gets better” should be paired with the notion of shows collapsing towards their ending. The phrase I see used above is “front loaded”. If one tolerates shows that “get better”, one should also tolerate shows that get worse (are “front loaded”). To me, however, I am more disappointed by a show that falls apart, than a show that takes a while to get it together.

  19. Regarding dropping shows, as SK points out I rarely do it based on the show being bad. I think I’ve only done that twice. The rest of the time if I have to drop a show it’s for time. Seems like I have less and less of it to watch everything and still do what I want to do in regular daily life.

    My old motto was “I watch bad anime so you don’t have to.” I still take pride in that. Now if only people would fucking listen to me.

  20. I don’t like the examples of Higurashi and My Hime. At the end of episode one, I knew I was watching something different with Higurashi, and I was right. My Hime had something energetic to pull me from the beginning and it didn’t have to wait 16+ episodes for the drama to kick in because honestly, watching 16 episodes of boring cliches just to get some good parts don’t sound too convincing to me.

    The best example for your argument I can think of is Violinist of Hamelin. My god the majority of the series sucked so bad in the beginning. I wish I could really tell people ‘don’t worry, it’s only like over half the series it gets really really REALLY good’, but not many people will be willing to do that, hell I don’t know how I managed to do that.

    But like mentioned before, we’re using ‘classics’ or recognised works as examples, I don’t know if we can use that approach for new series.

  21. Not sure if anyone said anything about these comments, but by “better” people are referring to the viewing experience in general. If it is referring to something specific (like pacing or tone or whatever) those statements would be couched in that context “oh the pacing sucks but it gets better” etc. When someone describes the show plainly by “it gets better” I believe it is typically referring to the viewing experience in the totality.

    My understanding of the term is more from the typical notion of attachment to character. Anime tend to be character driven, so it takes some time to be familiar and grow attached to them. In that sense, character-driven stories will take more time to take off the ground, and thus ‘get better.’ I think 12 Kingdoms and Rurouni Kenshin TV are a couple good examples of this.

    But my perspective is also more like “12 episodes? You can’t stand it for 12 episodes? I know fans of a certain OP show who are going to laugh at your puny attention span. LOL not worth it LOL.” Just kidding.

    As for Moshidora, well, I watched all of it, and in general I don’t do that for anime I don’t like.

  22. It gets better? As in, “there is a transformation at the end that makes everything worth it?” Or “if you whack your balls with a mallot, it’s bound to hurt less over time due to all the nerve ends dying?”

    I think your arguing the former, SK, and Scamp is arguing the latter.

  23. SM,

    Sounds about right.

  24. And what I was trying to say was that it’s a story’s duty to entertain at every turn. Combining a bunch of elements from earlier in the story to make a brilliant conclusion (ala Higurashi style) is great and all, but if one cannot enjoy the story for other reasons earlier on, then there are definite issues.

    While Steins;Gate is incomplete this season of course, I’m confident it will draw upon many things that already happened to create soul shaking developments, but it still manages to entertain the audience irrespective of the main plot unfolding with its brilliant character interactions and development.

    I’m not saying that one should drop a show if it doesn’t immediately impress. Hell I rarely drop shows I pick up and I’m watching like 12 series this season. Just arguing that this whole “if you wait, there’s a good payoff” shtick is essentially arguing for mediocre storytelling. You can keep a story interesting and grabbing in the beginning and also have an even larger pay off in the end. That’s true quality.

  25. Personally I find that perspective really questionable. Because entertainment is not the be-all-end-all goal of serial narrative of television animation. And more importantly, what counts for entertaining is as subjective as it can get.

    Duty is a dirty word.

  26. “It gets better, I swear!” (igbis) is still below “It’s freakin’ awesome all the way through OH YEAH GINTAMA.”

    I’ve found that whenever somebody tells me a series gets better, it doesn’t. So while I do occasionally say an igbis (namely, in anime club when people were groaning over the first episode of Eureka Seven… those bastards!), I’ve learned not to trust others’ igbises. My blind trust in the power of igbis made me sit through series like Honey and Clover, sola, Chobits, Narutaru, and much of Kaiji, Ouran, Pandora Hearts, etc. Other people may have liked these anime, but they all went way, way downhill for me.

    The thing is, igbis only applies to a very tiny minority of anime. People think, “Oh, if you didn’t like this series I suggested, you will.” when that kind of mentality is totally flawed. Igbis is for extreme cases (even Eureka Seven doesn’t fall under this..), not for when people don’t like what you like.

    – Acronym Popularizer

  27. “It gets better, I swear!” (igbis) is still below “It’s freakin’ awesome all the way through OH YEAH GINTAMA.”


    I’ve found that whenever somebody tells me a series gets better, it doesn’t.

    Have you ever wondered:

    A). Why someone told you that? and / or
    B). Why you don’t think it got better?

    I’ve learned not to trust others’ igbises. My blind trust in the power of igbis made me sit through series like…

    Honey and Clover





    Meh. I liked it. Kavix didn’t.



    Kaiji, Ouran, Pandora Hearts

    Buh? Buh? and never heard of it, so okay.

    Other people may have liked these anime, but they all went way, way downhill for me.

    The others aside, I’d love to hear your criticisms of H&C (Kaiji I haven’t seen).

    The thing is, igbis only applies to a very tiny minority of anime. People think, “Oh, if you didn’t like this series I suggested, you will.” when that kind of mentality is totally flawed. Igbis is for extreme cases (even Eureka Seven doesn’t fall under this..), not for when people don’t like what you like.

    This isn’t about preference, at least not what SK’s trying to argue. This is about objective improvements. Story, narrative, structure, character development, direction, pacing, whatever. You can hate a show all you want because of your own personal preferences, but that doesn’t mean the show hasn’t gotten better.

    I’ve seen shows that got better that I still hated. I still recognize they got better.

  28. […] a few days ago, a blog post at the Behind the Nihon Review had myself thinking about the usefulness of the three-episode test I […]

  29. @The Typical Idiot Fan:
    why so comment dissect?

    Have you ever wondered:

    A). Why someone told you that? and / or
    B). Why you don’t think it got better?

    Yes, it’s called different tastes. And I’ve learned to deal with it.

    On Honey and Clover: It was boring. Too slow-paced. Annoying mascot character. Unmemorable characters. “Character going to America and becoming famous” was a chunk of plot that ruined the realism of the show. And yes, I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve heard everything about this series (and I disagree with most of it).

    Also I don’t like how you link to this site’s reviews. Come on, you should know there are always people who don’t like what you like.

    This isn’t about preference, at least not what SK’s trying to argue. This is about objective improvements. Story, narrative, structure, character development, direction, pacing, whatever. You can hate a show all you want because of your own personal preferences, but that doesn’t mean the show hasn’t gotten better.

    I’ve seen shows that got better that I still hated. I still recognize they got better.

    You must be joking. Opinions on anime are always subjective. There is little room for “objective improvements,” since things like character development could be interpreted freely.

    For example, let’s say somebody urges you to see K-ON! because IGBIS! Then they say that objectively, character development and increasingly witty dialog and humor are the reasons why it gets better.

    Maybe you’re a K-ON! supporter and believe those claims are as objective as they come, but I don’t think so. Just because you have examples of shows you hate that you acknowledge got better doesn’t mean shows just objectively get better. How can something so subjective be interpreted as fact?

  30. P.S.: “Objective” is a powerful and fancy word, and people tend to use it a lot in arguments. It’s good for shutting others up, since it’s objective! It’s the truth! How can somebody else’s opinion be valid against a fact?

    But yeah. Not objective, IMO.

    so irony

  31. @Sorrow-kun Actually, I am one of those supporters of individual taste trumping over the vague notion of objective quality. These days, I write my reviews emphasizing my perception of each show’s qualities and weaknesses, explaining my predispositions and the mood I was in.

    But I do think there’s an intershared value that we’re not mentioning, I just don’t think it’s related to “objective quality”. And I’m not saying I don’t trust your judgement either, as someone else implied, but if we both start a series and one of us drops it, one of us didn’t like how it was developing, and that’s that as far as I’m concerned. In the majority of all cases, the damage has been done and the watcher won’t revisit it. I’ve revisited dropped series only twice: Code Geass (which I picked up again after ep 6; I’m glad I did) and Seitokai no Ichizon (which I marathoned after it was completed; a complete waste of time), so missing out on a few good shows really isn’t that problematic.

    Perhaps you’re coming into this from a perspective of an anime reviewer who simply has to pin a grade on each show, but before that you have to establish a common ground where you can argue that notion of quality. I don’t really see that as the point of reviewing anime. If a person wants to trust my judgment on a series and pick it up, he should at least have a clear understanding of where that judgment is coming from.

  32. It works for some; it doesn’t work for some. . . I think there’s a balance here. I guess it’s all luck.

    Let’s say for starters, Ouran. A person did a three episode test and to your surprise he/she said it sucked. Don’t go telling that person “it gets better I swear” because the format of the series is basically the same so if you hated the first few episodes, how the hell are you gonna like the rest? Some series are actually already good from the beginning so those series don’t need the it gets better I swear.

    Another case is that where they’re right. This is usually for those series that have a slow start yet an amazing finish. This is when “It gets better I swear” applies I guess. An example of this would be, well, Moshidora this season. That series really got a lot better as it progressed.

    In Scamp’s case, he probably got butthurt a lot because his ratio has way too many failures. Or all his commenters in his blog tell him “The series gets better” so even more butthurt.

  33. […] is, Madoka Magica wasn’t that special.  I needed something more.  I stumbled across that IGBIS post on Behind the Nihon Review.  Then I stumbled across Caraniel’s post on her top 50 anime, where Shiki was #2.  Then I […]

  34. […] is, Madoka Magica wasn’t that special.  I needed something more.  I stumbled across that IGBIS post on Behind the Nihon Review.  Then I stumbled across Caraniel’s post on her top 50 anime, where Shiki was #2.  Then I […]

  35. Steins;Gate is a prime example of this.

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