Why We Drop Anime (and Other Stories)

Like several other bloggers I saw, I recently posted a small list of my personal favorite anime from last year, 2022. But I also had a recent experience which left me considering the anime at the other end of the spectrum, the least favorite, the failures… the ones I began but soon dropped for various reasons. I really started considering this when I realized that I’d just dropped three anime within the same week.

It happens all the time, of course. Even if an anime passes my one-episode rule, there is no guarantee that it will remain good enough to keep watching. The same holds true for other media as well. Most people can probably cite several movie franchises that used to be great, but now are complete crap. Most of the shows I originally followed for This Week on TV were dropped long before their conclusions, for a variety of reasons. Even books can drag on to point of becoming unbearable.

A good storyteller not only hooks the audience from the start, but puts in the effort to keep us hooked. Every performer on the street knows that once you lose the audience’s interest, once they think that they are not getting enough out of this in exchange for the investment of their time, their money, and their appreciation, that will be it. They will give no more, and the storyteller whose livelihood depends on them will lose out.

So, what are the reasons people drop anime and other stories? What are the pitfalls that make us lose interest, and thus are points which storytellers need to avoid? What falls under the “Do Not Do” list, once they’ve at least managed to get their audience?

I am once again indebted to a certain wonderful Facebook group for helping me to flesh out the following list, which I present in no particular order. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.

As I first started thinking about this in relation to anime, that will be the bulk of the examples I use.

It Doesn’t Hook Us

Obviously, first and foremost, before anything and everything else… a story needs to hook the audience. Everything else comes after. By and large, these are the ones we put down within minutes of picking them up, so they may not count as “dropped,” per se, but the damage still gets done, in that they are not followed in the first place.

Here, I could point to a long list of anime and books, but as I don’t actually keep track of those, I shall just point to one from what is currently the latest crop of anime: Technoroid Overmind. The entire premise just fell flat for me, and they took far too long to get to anything that could interest me. It failed my one-episode rule.

Boring

This is the ultimate taboo. We in the audience may find forgiveness for almost anything else under the sun, any flaw that can be named, but we are here to be entertained. “Boring” is the singularly worst sort of thing which any story can ever be.

To provide an example of an anime which was both boring and which desperately needed forgiving, I point to Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World. Which really should be “Slave Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World.”

Not only was this straight-up an actual glorification of slavery, as many other innocent stories have been accused of, and not only was it vastly inappropriate and gratuitous with explicit sex scenes which were outright pornography, but it was so boring! I wasn’t actually even getting anything in exchange for my extreme tolerance of this show. (Which has also left me deeply reconsidering the things I tolerate, even if I can skip over specific scenes as I did here) The promises of action and drama and everything else were swallowed up in mundane tasks, easy triumphs, and moments where the protagonists literally sat there and did nothing while the action unfolded.

I didn’t only drop this one, I resent that I ever gave it my time.

Which leads somewhat into the next reason on this list.

Offensive Content

It might be social and political issues like slavery, or it might be unending vulgar language, or it might be overly graphic gore and violence, or it might be gratuitous sex scenes, or it might be any number of other things. But whatever it may be, the storyteller must remember that their audience is there to be entertained. Yes, part of that typically involves a little bit of discomfort, such as tension, apprehension, horror, shock, etc. But it does not mean everything that makes us uncomfortable is a good thing, and certainly not something we actually want.

I still stay far away from slasher films for the horror and the blood, and I sometimes wish I could completely forget the latter portion of Akira. But more recently, alongside Slave Harem, was another anime which was both boring and which offended me: Vermeil in Gold.

That might seem strange, considering how much more gratuitously explicit Slave Harem is in comparison to Vermeil, and yet as much content as I could simply skip over in Slave HaremVermeil creeped me out on a different level. At least everyone in Slave Harem was, ironically, fully consenting and legal. In Vermeil, we had a young man, very early teens, paired up with a fully-grown, fully matured, and hyper-sexualized woman, a literal sex demon. And they weren’t shy at all about it, with her hanging all over him, sitting right in his lap, and frequently kissing. Sure, they might not have had outright sex (at least not before I dropped it), but I find the normalization and promotion of the sexual molestation and statutory rape of minors to be every bit as offensive as blatant, hard-core pornography.

With that obvious reason out of the way, there are a number of other reasons we drop stories that we bothered to start. Several of these could all be lumped together with “boring,” but are a bit more explicit as to why they are boring.

Unimpressive Characters

If anything is going to convince us to keep on with a story, it’s the characters. They are what we love first and foremost, and they are what we remember the most. If we can’t connect with them, or relate to them, or even care about them, let alone if just find them too annoying, then sooner or later we will simply turn and walk away.

Example: Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer

The premise of the show involves special knights partnering with mystical, intelligent animals, gaining a low-level superpower, and challenging some dark wizard who is about to destroy the world. Detail: the princess in whose name they fight intends to destroy the world herself. Monsters, action, mysteries, romance, etc., it has many things which could be good selling points. But once the first knight died, in such cliche drama, I found that I felt nothing about it. When the audience feels nothing for the death of a hero, you are doing something wrong.

The Lucifer-like princess might have been cute and appealing at first, enough to catch my attention for a time, but I felt no real connection to her, not even when her spirit and her true knight’s spirit flirted and kissed. As for the central protagonist himself, he had some traumatic issues to work through, courtesy of a grandfather who severely abused him, but nothing about that made any sense, and when he decided to save his grandfather’s life, after being the only one in the family to be abused by him, it made no sense to me at all. I felt no investment or attachment at all. And why bother saving him if you intend to destroy the world anyway?

Yeah, I just didn’t jive with these characters.

Repetitive

The same thing happens over and over and over again. It may not instantly disqualify most stories which fall to it, but when the audience notices it and stops getting anything new out of the story, well, why bother continuing? Interest wanes and wanes until it dies outright and then it wanes even further into the negative.

Exhibit A, or, rather, Exhibit V: The Vampire Dies in No Time.

I mentioned this in my review of the anime, but it lost a lot of steam in its first season. With each successive episode, the humor devolved from witty and insightful to mostly bad and dirty jokes, with a new baddie coming along with a unique ability to make things sexually awkward for everyone. Again and again and again, like they had to fill out half a season of comedy after running out of higher quality material.

I may have stomached most of the first season, but now that a second season has begun, I find myself not exactly lining up to watch it.

Predictable

We like surprises. Even if we sometimes hate exactly what the surprise in question is, even if we don’t want things to come entirely out of left field, we still like surprises. We like not knowing what’s going to happen, at least the first time around. We like it so much that we poke fun at predictable things, like they did in Megamind. If we already know what’s going to happen, then, well, we go back to things getting boring.

One of the more recent anime I endured was entitled, I’ve Somehow Gotten Stronger When I Improved My Farm-Related Skills. And if that mouthful of a title isn’t enough to turn an audience away by the time someone finishes rattling it off, then exactly how predictable it is probably will. I mean, they did nothing particularly original or creative with this. Fantasy world, super-strong protagonist, each girl the hero saves joins the harem, demons aren’t all so bad, bad human uses them to expand his own power, evil god is on the rise, cute but psycho enemy with a personal connection to the hero… yeah, there’s nothing new or fresh here, and it isn’t done in a particularly entertaining way, and oh, is it boring and easy to see what’s going to happen.

Incoherent

It begins, it looks like it’s going somewhere, and then it goes everywhere else instead! The pacing is lacking, the plot is all over the place, the themes are lost in the bedlam, the characters do whatever they’re supposed to do whether or not it makes any sense at all… yeah, one loses interest in the senseless.

A recent anime which was guilty of this was I’m the Villainess so I’m Taming the Final Boss, which I enjoyed at its beginning, but by the end I was skipping huge swathes of each episode to find any particular bits that actually mattered. It started as an unusual love story and then it went off and did all sorts of insensible things as if just for the heck of it. It could have been an epic love story, and instead it fell to pieces. Incoherent pieces. Which were just jammed together and they said, “Here’s a story!” Ugh!

Annoying

There can be many reasons why this happens. It can be the characters’ voices, the emphasis on drama, the cliche storyline, the childlike audience it is obviously intended for… the list goes on, but what it comes down to is that every moment which we want to spend relaxing is instead spent with our teeth clenching, our eyes rolling, and our brains gagging.

Easily the most annoying part of Tomodachi Game is how it tries to be much, much smarter than it actually is. It especially tries to build up the lead protagonist as some kind of secretly insane genius of nigh-villainous proportions, with overly complicated schemes hatched to match equally overcomplicated schemes, all commented on in a Brock-like fashion, another annoyance which was not improved by how the commentators were three busty women instead one blockheaded man.

Honestly, it was ridiculous.

Off-Putting Animation

Speaking of annoyance, this is why I cannot watch The Dragon Prince, no matter how much others seem to enjoy it. Almost any experience can be turned from something enjoyable to something unpleasant based on how it looks. That’s why terrible CGI should be kept out of otherwise normally-animated shows, because it is simply horrid to look at.

As this generally makes shows fail my one-episode rule, I point to two series so recent that they just barely aired this season: Trigun Stampede and Kaina of the Great Snow Sea. I wasn’t entirely interested in the former, but I might have watched it anyway, due to nostalgia if nothing else, but I didn’t make it five minutes before the terrible CGI got to me. As for the latter title, I was able to watch most of the first episode entirely, and it looks to have an intriguing, if also cliche, storyline, with capable characters, but… oh, I just can’t stand to look at it for that long!

Preachy

Also on the subject of annoyance, we consume stories for our entertainment and our enjoyment, and perhaps even our learning. We do not consume them because we want to be preached at. And say what you will about religion, we are getting preached at everywhere outside of church as well. We can’t turn around, or turn on the TV, or get on the internet at all without getting some virtue-signaling dullard screaming in our faces about all the wrongs of the world and ourselves and everything else. Stories may teach us powerful messages, but the better storytellers manage to do that by inspiring us to think and to talk, rather than shoving their message down our throats, and at the expense of the story’s quality.

I admit that anime is full of preachy, self-righteous characters, but often they are only part of the story. Thus, I point to what has been among my favorite franchises, but which I have now lost all interest in, because they went from telling good stories to telling crappy stories that preach at us: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In fact, most everything Disney owns these days has turned into preachy garbage. True, they always displayed a clear favoritism on certain subjects in most of their works, but at least they didn’t straight-up preach at us about how terrible we were and shove this woke crap in our faces. But now everything is all about the agenda. Screw epic storylines with remarkable characters and adrenaline-filled battles, everything now has got to be all about The Message.

That kills my interest right quick, which is a shame for something that was once so great.

Which brings me to the next reason on the list.

Degradation

The story starts out good, it improves and reaches greater heights, it achieves a zenith… and then, instead of ending, it gets dragged on, and run times need to get filled out for seasons on end, long after it should have finished, and they have no further idea where to take things even as they’re propelled on, because, well, money.

That was the fate of Once Upon a Time, as well as the Arrowverse, both of which started out remarkably, with strong characters, plots, and themes, but slowly fell apart as things wore on. This happened much more swiftly with a recent anime, Arknights.

Apparently based on a video game, Arknights started strong with a special forces team rescuing an amnesiac individual who supposedly had known a way to cure a mysterious and widespread affliction. It even made sense for them to be using more silent weaponry like arrows instead of guns, considering they were operating in enemy territory. But then it just kept going like that, with the protagonists always having to operate in stealth even in friendly territory, always with the enemy breathing down their necks, always with things turning out worse than they were ready to handle, and always with a new friend or ally sailing in to save them at the last minute. All of this, and the very point for rescuing the amnesiac, namely the much-desired cure for this terrible affliction that apparently they all brought upon themselves by using a mineral that allows them to do magic and which does not ever spread unless one happens to be close to a shattering corpse of someone who had it, was completely forgotten. And really, who can keep all of that straight anyway?

Which is as good a segue as I can hope for this next point:

It Gets Overly Complicated/Convoluted

Complexity and intricacy are not bad things, but neither is simplicity.

Yes, we like things which invigorate our minds, things which have infinite depths hidden within them, but we also like our stories to go from A to B to C, in a straight line that we can follow, rather than going in twenty different directions all at once, where every last second has five hours worth off commentary in it and everyone within the story has to be a Machiavellian genius in order to make the right move and everyone in the audience needs to also be a genius just to keep up.

This is why I stopped following one of my favorite anime, Attack on Titan. It just got too complicated for me to keep investing my emotions, especially with so many characters dying or becoming scarcely-human monsters of conniving cunning. Sure, I could keep up, but it was emotionally draining me instead of refreshing me, ya know?

It was just too exhausting.

Which is another good segue for:

It Becomes a Sluggish Chore to Continue

Again, when we are consuming a story, we want to be entertained. We are not supposed to have to put in effort for this. It supposed to be the time we are recharging. So whether it is boring, repetitive, annoying, offensive, preachy, convoluted, or anything else, or any combination thereof, the ultimate final straw is simply when we realize that continuing is not an enjoyment, it has become a chore which drains us.

That is the ultimate souring of our relationship with anything.

And for that, I look to X’amd: Lost Memories as a prime example. I will always remember this anime, in particular, as one which I only finished in a binge, and only because I was determined to review it, and that much only because it was the early days of this, my humble blog, so I was determined to finish and review it, for no better reason than because I drew its number out of a hat.

It was boring, things happened just because, the themes were a mess, the characters made no sense, it mistook complication for depth, early promises of intrigue and action degraded into incoherency, and whoever made it had a disturbing fascination with monsters that swallow girls whole. This one was very much a sluggish chore to finish, and it was barely two dozen episodes long, if I recall right.

I felt like I deserved a medal just for finishing it!

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2 Responses to Why We Drop Anime (and Other Stories)

  1. Lynn says:

    One of the main reasons I tend to drop stuff is when it’s clear that no one has done any research. I started a zombie book that had a character fly from Nigeria to Egypt in 30 minutes. Then, they flew to London and that took ten hours. It would have taken two minutes with Google to find out that this was ridiculously incorrect. If the author isn’t prepared to put the effort in on something small like that, I’ve got no time to read the rest.

    Other than that, I find boring is the most offensive thing to me. It doesn’t have to be exciting action, but it has to engage me somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merlin says:

      Hmm, yes, a friend mentioned something similar, to the effect of “the author’s ignorance of the world overrides personal enjoyment.” They’re Catholic and found that they could not overlook it when an author clearly had no understanding of Catholicism at all.

      That farming anime I mention was a strong candidate for that slot, as they clearly did not know a thing about farming when they wrote it, but it was too much of a shoo-in for “predictable.”

      …they seriously thought they could go from Nigeria to Egypt in half an hour but then going to London would take ten? …sheesh!

      Liked by 1 person

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