The Promise of Later

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There’s a definite trend for anime that start slowly or have a lull in the mid-section to be defended by staunch lovers of the source material using the phrase ‘it gets better’. Usually with a ‘trust me’ thrown in there as well. This is “the Promise of Later” and I’ve kind of used it myself with Saihate no Paladin because such an epic story needs time to get up and off the ground.

So often times it is actually quite correct in that the story does find its feet and pick itself up. However, does that actually make the story any better in the first place if the only way to defend it in the early days is to argue that something better is coming?

I guess we could point out that viewers these days are fairly impatient beings and with so many anime available to them each season it is easy enough to simply not want to play a waiting game. Why wait for one title to ‘get better’ when another title simply is ‘better’?

Endro Episode 8

Now, I know I am an impatient person. Given I’ve suggested things like skipping the first 100 pages when reading To Kill a Mockingbird as you won’t appreciably miss any of the plot by doing so, though you will lose a lot of character and world building. I guess it depends why you are reading the story in the first place and whether you really get immersed in all that set up or just keep turning pages to see when the ‘plot’ might appear.

But yes, that book tried my patience to no end and even though the trial and the message in the second half of the book are actually pretty solid, I really felt like I wanted the time spent reading the opening act back.

However, I’m perfectly happy to wait a reasonable length into a series with an interesting premise for it to find its feet even if the opening act isn’t exactly blowing me away.

Does the promise of later sway your decisions?

Of course, that results in me watching quite a number of anime that just never find their feet and end as boringly as they started, or worse, they go in weird directions and just kind of implode. Caligula would probably fit into this category. I didn’t drop it even though there were plenty of poor episodes early on and plenty of warning that it was going to be a mess. However, I wanted to give it time to find its way and finish its set up. Too bad it never got any better.

Caligula Episode 11

Yet there comes a time during a season where you have to wonder if the time being sunk into watching is actually going to be worth a later payoff. In the case of Sakurada Reset, it turns out it really was. Now, I still don’t fully recommend Sakurada Reset to any but the most avid anime fan given there’s a lot of set-up time and I very nearly walked away from the anime mid-season. But…

See, there’s that ‘but’.

It gets better.


The ending of Sakurada Reset was one of the most satisfying narrative conclusions I’ve seen in anime and while it isn’t the best, by any means, I felt that all of the set up time, the weird stilted dialogue, the seemingly disjointed stories, and the general frustration felt while watching individual episodes of the story, were worth it for that ending. Everything came together in a way that so few shows manage and it just felt like reaching the summit of a mountain and getting the most gorgeous view imaginable.

Still, if someone else were to watch the first few episodes and tell me they dropped it, I would fully understand. I would try to argue that they should be more patient and give it more time because it is quite the slog to get through and I remember how tiresome some of those mid-season episodes were.

Run With The Wind Episode 4

There’s also Run With The Wind, that has built up to a second half that is truly unmissable. Yet would I blame anyone from walking away in the first half? When I hated one character entirely for a large chunk of the first cour, didn’t really connect with a lot of the others, and found the training sequences less than compelling and it was really only direction, visuals and sound design that really kept me hooked (and Prince as he has some of the coolest lines imaginable).

I really can’t say that everyone is going to think that the ending is worth it (particularly as we aren’t yet at the end). What I will say is I am super glad I kept watching because wow that has been one of the best emotional payoffs in a long time from anime.

Run With The Wind Episode 7 Prince

But I’ll turn my attention to Sword Art Online Alicization. I was really looking forward to more SAO, and not a spin-off without Kirito, but genuine SAO. Alicization as an arc has been talked up by those who have read the source so much so even though I tried to go in with reasonable expectations, there was this sense that what was coming should be amazing.

First few episodes had their moments. They got me into the story and established characters. There were sufficient cool and nostalgic moments sprinkled in. Yep, this was SAO and I like SAO and Kirito was back doing his thing. It wasn’t like Aincrad which hooked me from episode one and dragged me into a story that I ended up loving, but it was certainly a promising beginning.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Kirito

Then we just kind of meandered along. Stuff has happened to be sure but if the recap episode after episode 18 was anything to go by, not enough to justify 18 episodes worth of viewing. And as more and more chinks in the poorly paced and exposition heavy narrative become completely impossible to ignore, the defence that is being mounted is ‘it gets better’.

How much better and will it be worth the time commitment? Well only time and personal judgement will answer that.

Will I drop Sword Art Online Alicization? Probably not. I like Sword Art Online and much like Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card, nostalgia will get this show a lot of life-lines and keep me watching and hoping.


But if I was asked whether or not someone should start Alicization, would I actually recommend it?

Right now the answer is absolutely not, unless you happen to be a huge fan of SAO and just want more. There are significantly better written and better executed shows airing right now and while Sword Art Online Alicization remains a watchable experience there is very little I could point to that would be something I could recommend to anyone who isn’t a Kirito fan already.

The argument ‘it gets better’ just seems a little hollow here.

Ultimately, each viewer is going to make their own decision about how much time they are willing to give something. Whether they will stick with something for the long haul or whether they will cut their losses early. Each viewer will decide whether the promise of something better later is worth what they are watching right now. But I am interested to know from my readers how you feel about the ‘it gets better’ defence and whether you feel it has merit as a means of recommending someone continues to watch something or whether you are someone who drops things fast when they don’t deliver.

Leave us a comment below and lets get the conversation started.

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Karandi James

48 thoughts on “The Promise of Later

    1. I honestly wish I wasn’t. I’d really like the show just to be good because we all watch anime to be entertained. Still… it is what it is at this point.

  1. Literally me with Kaguya on every post of yours,hahahaha

    Tho it IS getting better now (still in the cliche territory tho)

    1. I haven’t seen this week’s episode yet. Hopefully I’ll catch it tonight and we’ll see if it is getting better. Then again, my issue with that is it just isn’t my kind of story so even if it got amazing I’d probably still find it a little ‘meh’.

  2. Having read all the Alicization arc light novels that have been published in English, I never saw the getting better thing, the anime is pretty much the same as the light novels, that is pretty mediocre compared to the original SAO and Mother’s Rosario.

    In terms of Slime, again having read the light novels before watching the anime, it starts pretty much how it goes along, if you don’t like the early parts of Slime, later won’t change your mind.

    Same with Kaguya-sama, I’ve read the manga, and it does get better, because of the long-term development of the characters, but the essential nature of the story doesn’t really change, so if you find the early stuff not to your taste, I don’t think you are going to find it better later. Personally, I think it’s a great mix of comedy and character development, but I can understand people not liking it.

    Perhaps the only one which sort of gets “better” is Rising of the Shield Hero where things are revealed as the story goes on, which provide an explanation for many of the things that have happened early in the story which seem pretty bizarre at the time. But again, the essential nature of the story doesn’t really change, so if you don’t like the first 3 or 4 episodes, I doubt that anything in the later episodes will change your feelings about it.

    1. I’ll agree that Shield Hero doesn’t ‘get better’ but it does make more sense later and things kind of come together a bit more as the story progresses. Which is kind of nice. Then again, I found I also just enjoyed the story more as it moved away from the first volume of the light novel because Naofumi isn’t quite as grating after volume 1. Still, I wouldn’t argue to someone who hated episode one that they should keep watching because it gets better. Its an isekai light novel and while it goes against some of the basic tropes, it embraces a lot of the other ones, and if you don’t like it, watching or reading more is unlikely to change your mind.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. This so called “It get’s better” is only applicable for Slice of life tag because it needs time to build the caharacter and story. As for action I never felt like “it get’s better” surely there are few action anime which get’s better by each episode or season but they are very few, like rare. Naruto, Bleach or DBZ or any other action anime, we say that it get’s better by time but really? We only see all those episode because of those great action or fight scenes. Suck it because it’s true. Mc get’s new power and we got hyped up and say that now it will be a great, but we only care for fight. not story.

    But no matter how hard we talk on this topic at the end of the day it’s all about your own taste, For me I can watch harem anime all day, beacause i like those steamy scenes and don’t care much about story or development.

    By the way what’s your Fav. tag?

    1. I’m going to be honest, Bleach gets significantly worse as it goes. I really love Bleach and own the box sets of the DVD’s because I really am a fan. But after season three everything is pretty much down hill and even the cool new powers and fight scenes don’t really make up for that. it is really only love of the cast from the early seasons that keeps you watching it. Still, those first three seasons are great.

  4. Lynn said something about being taught to start in the middle of action and I do remember being taught such a thing when I was pursuing fiction writing more seriously. To be honest it’s a case-by-case basis as to whether opening with a flashy scene works though, including factoring in medium, genre and possibly even major plot twists. After all, some flashy fights only work when the stakes are set properly, like a fight for the end of the world.

    That being said, your “better” might not be someone else’s “better” – this is particularly true for someone who doesn’t quite agree with the mainstream most of the time, which is why I prefer to pave my own way through anime more often than not.

    One of the ultimate “it gets better” shows, for me, is one I gave up on anime-wise but finished the manga for – Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, which doesn’t seem like it goes anywhere fast for its first arc…and then subsequent arcs arrive and you’re left going, “So this is what all that setup was for!” It’s a similar case with Samurai Flamenco’s ep. 7, come to think of it.

    1. Katekyo Hitman Reborn is another of those ones I seem to have put permanently on hold. I didn’t actually drop it, I just didn’t really want to continue pursuing it at the time. Still, there’s been enough reviews of later content that make me want to eventually see where it goes.

  5. Yeah, this is always a challenging one. There are some shows where I know it does shift gears past a certain point after slow early starts, but those aren’t usually shows at the top of my recommendation list, for exactly the reasons that have been discussed. It isn’t really fair or reasonable to tell someone to sit through 14 episodes of an anime on the promise that “it’s going to get really good after that!.” And if for some reason I am recommending a slow-starting show to someone, instead of just saying “it gets better,” I’ll try to give them more specific guidance. Like, “Pay attention to the interactions between these two characters in the first two episodes,” or “Episode 2 is the most representative of what the show’s like once it really hits its stride.” Just something that might help clue my friend in as to whether it’s even worth it for them to keep going, without having to endure a whole bunch of mediocrity to get to the episodes I think are good and then discover they still aren’t feeling it anyway.

    1. That’s a fairly sensible approach to it. Giving a recommendation but letting people know what it is that will get better or what parts of the story are important early on that will be built upon, as that will help them decide if they want to commit to the episode count.

  6. Good points. I’ve had situations where a show does start out okay, but then gets good after a few episodes. Pacing is another thing. Some anime work better with a slower pace and some work better when it’s faster pace depending on the genre, plotting, and aesthetics. If people tell me to invest in a really long-running series, then I do get a bit frustrated since I don’t want to wait 20-30 episodes for something to get good.

    1. Long running series I find much harder to get into because of the time investment. I kind of want a lot more from them than I expect from a single cour anime.

      1. I agree. I could name names about certain series popular or not, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The sheer amount of episodes can be a turn off. To be honest, I wished OVAs would be a thing again in anime. I liked how I can watch what would be considered a “mini-series” of sorts to fully watch a whole story when done right.

        1. Though you have to admit, some long running series have the opposite problem. They start really good or interesting and then kind of run out of steam or at least just don’t ever manage to hit the same heights that the early seasons have.

      2. Funny, I’ve always preferred longer series. Monogatari franchise, Kara no Kyokai, the 3 Grisaia seasons, Cowboy Bebop. I could go on and on. It’s like watching a child grow up. You wouldn’t want to drop that before it is well and truly over.

        1. There are certainly good long running series that are interesting in the beginning and build beautifully. But if we look particularly at more action focused longer running series like Attack on Titan, midway through the first season it was starting to lose me and while the third season has certainly picked things up, really it is only the hype around the franchise that kept me watching that far. My Hero Academia also seemed to lose a bit of steam by season 3 and while it is still good, I’m not exactly poised and waited for season 4.
          Then again, March Comes in Like a Lion has managed to continue to hold my interest and get better and better over the course of its two (two cour) seasons.

          1. I actually dropped AoT. Saw some reviews indicating improvement and restarted .

            MHA has slowed a bit but it’s far from waste of time for me. There’s froggie girl who I absolutely love and a couple of characters that lose their clothing to use their powers. What more could a nudie like me ask for? 😀

          2. Just another thought. LOTR 2 and Star Wars 5 were both considered by many to be less exciting than the previous and following installments. It could be inherent in the hero’s journey that the middle is less exciting than the beginning or the end.

  7. This reminds me of the advice I see banded around for storytellers that you need to start in the middle of the action. I think that approach resonates with society that has got used to the big opening piece in Hollywood blockbusters. However, if you look at a lot of the classics like Lord of the Rings, the opening is slow and it gradually builds up as the story progresses. Something like that would struggle if it were released today.

    I don’t mind shows that’s take their time providing that the premise and the characters are interesting enough to keep my attention. There’s definitely got to be a balance and if done correctly, the slower build up can deliver a superior pay off, but get it wrong and no one’s going to be watching when that happens.

    1. While Lord of the Rings might start slow, the world and characters are quite interesting and enough small events and incidents happen to keep it rolling along and keep the audience invested. Though, it definitely has a while to build up to the grander battles and moments that really define it, it isn’t a case of not being good or interesting early on and then getting better. It is more just that gradual build up where the audience is given enough reason to believe it is going somewhere that they will happily get on board with the anticipation.
      Still, modern audiences being what they are, you are probably right in that most of us probably wouldn’t be too happy with something that took quite that long to get moving these days.

      1. Yeah, for the most part we’ve been conditioned to expect instant gratification. Shows that are slower and require more development are a harder sell. I know I’ve almost dropped shows after one episode only for it to pick up later.

        I agree that if it does nothing for the story it is wasted time that could have been better served developing the actual story.

      2. I think you are wrong. Good writing, interesting characters, and an intriguing plot will always sell a story. We start out with the action opening so much of the time because of a creative deficit and thematic cowardice in Hollywood. It is a crutch for the lazy and the insecure.

          1. Something can only be successful if someone tried it. The entertainment industry is fearful of risk and often only copies what happened in the last success.

      1. Haha! I only mean that storytelling has changed so much in recent times, especially with the affects of the internet and on demand content, that if it doesn’t grab the viewer/reader quickly they will just pick up something else.

    1. Yes, there are plenty of ‘they get better later’ shows that I’ve put on hold until after they were done and then watched in one or two sessions. Sometimes they actually do get better. Sometimes, not so much.

  8. The “it gets better” argument drives me crazy, especially when used by people who take light novel source material as some kind of gospel …like I see with plenty of Alicization fans right now. It has good moments when it *shows* us the world, like when Eugeo’s eye exploded after he broke the Taboo Index or whatever. But then it goes back to explain what it’s already shown (or at least implied), *telling* the same points again and again and again. But I don’t need an explanation of the Index! You just showed me – and like twice already! If Alicization was shorter, sure maybe I’d wait for it to get better. But it’s already run at such a sluggish pace for almost two regular seasons. That’s waaay too long… why stick around?

    1. And that’s the real point with Alicization. In nearly two seasons it hasn’t managed as much as some shows manage in 11 episodes. Now, I don’t mind setting up a larger story and using the longer run time to really establish things, but Alicization really is just repeating stuff and meandering about outside of the couple of good moments sprinkled just far enough apart to keep me watching and not giving up, but not frequently enough to actually leave me feeling it is good to watch at this point.

  9. That is why I don’t watch many anime as they are released. At any time I’ll have 2-3 seasonal anime going. I’ll usually drop an anime if it falls into the “But wait…” category. We have decades of anime to choose from and there is still so much good stuff out there I haven’t seen as well as other great stuff to see again.

    As for anime that really do get better, plenty of people will be reviewing it. If it really does improve I’ll watch it later. Nana is an example, IMHO, of a fantastic anime that had a great start, a great end and a painfully slow middle. Only the music kept me going.

    Speaking of anime that starts out good and then falls apart, DarliFranxx is a great example. It was like the different studios were fighting over where it wanted to go and nobody wanted to play second fiddle, so it went nowhere. I stuck with it because I liked the “monster trying to become more human” theme and I was hoping they’d pursue the dystopia theme, ala “Brave New World” or “Logan’s Run”. They didn’t.

    I also hoped Zero Two’d go fishing again – perhaps with a different outcome – because that scene resonated with me very deeply. Really wanted Mitsuru to be explored more deeply. She and Zero Two could have found something together even if Ichigo was a no-go and Hiro was still her Darling. Nothing more interesting happened. It wasn’t worth watching the second half even though I kept hoping.

    With competent and coherent direction, it could have been a classic.

    1. Darling in the Franxx definitely fell apart. I liked the very beginning but it very quickly seemed to lose direction as it jumped from idea to idea and ultimately none of it really went anywhere.

  10. I’ve honestly given up on using “it’s gets better” as a whole, because it’s become kind of meaningless in some ways. Especially if something another person is watching is more to your tastes then theirs. What you say won’t mean much.

    1. Yes, and it isn’t giving a reason why something is good, only that somehow you aren’t seeing what is good about it, which doesn’t really make it seem anymore appealing.

  11. Remember the old saw that, if you have to explain a joke, it just wasn’t funny? That pops into my head every time I’m tempted to tell someone that a show “gets better.” Oh, I’ve said it, certainly, but usually I just put myself in their place with the immediate understanding that if I’m not interested, then I’m not wasting my time–so why would I expect different of someone else?

    1. Exactly. Most viewers are time poor in the first place having to make choices about what to watch and drop so most viewers aren’t exactly willing to wait twenty episodes in the hope that something might ‘get better’.

  12. After seeing your comment on your review of ep 20 earlier in the week – and I knew *exactly* where this article was going. 🙂

    And I pretty much agree with you…

    1. Yeah, I actually started drafting this a few weeks ago though because there’s been lots of this sort of ‘gets better’ mentality around both Alicization and Slime. And even when I dropped the third season of Index people assured me I was being impatient and it would get better. Also Kaguya Sama people keep saying gets better later. Really though, if something isn’t working for someone, telling them something gets better probably isn’t going to sell it to them because they still have to sit through right now. It’s kind of been an ongoing theme this season of people dismissing any criticism of a show because they’ve read the source and it ‘gets better’.

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