With the BD sale disaster of Chainsaw Man, many seem to have comeback to the idea of the infamous 3-Episode Rule, saying that many audience did not bother to watch past the first 3-episode of Chainsaw. However this is a gross misrepresentation of what the rule actually means.
Here I will explain the origin of the infamous 3-Episode Rule and why it had been greatly misrepresented. Obviously this will be spoiler heavy.
So where did this so called “Rule” come from?
One of if not the most influential anime of the 21st century: **Puella Magi Madoka Magica**
Just how influential is this anime? It practically changed the very concept of “Magical Girl”, as shown by this meme:
When this original anime was first announced, it was advertised as a traditional slice of life, Sailor Moon type Magical Girl anime, though with a very impressive assemble of big names in the industry.
Director: Shinbō Akiyuki
Storyboard: Urobuchi Gen
Character Design: Aoki Ume
Music: Kajiura Yuki
This is what the advertisement looks like back in 2010.
Needless to say this staff composition attracted some significant attentions well before the anime actually aired in Jan. 2011. Many were expecting theses names to create their own take on the cute anime concept of Magical Girl, as evidenced by the posters and cute fluffy visuals.
When the anime actually aired the first 2 episodes, it was exactly like any other traditional Magical Girl shows, with the protagonist meeting a mysterious creature which promised to give her special power. The characters seem pretty standard, the shy protagonist, her genki friend, their elder Magical Girl “Senpai”. For references, these were the opening and ending looks like for the first 2 episodes:
While everyone sits comfortably as to enjoy another classic take, episode 3 dropped and it all changed.
**Like everything changed.**
While the first half of the episode 3 appears to be standard, the Magical Girl senpai Tomoe Mami fights the evil witch, gets comfort from the protagonist Madoka, and eventually climaxed at the infamous phrase “There is nothing to afraid now.”
Then Mami got killed, in a brutal manner by having the witch literally bitten her head off. This is an actual screenshot of that episode:
While the audiences were still shocked at the development to say the least, the episode ended with another twist, a completely different ending which had an almost polar opposite theme compare to the previous one. Kalafina’s most famous song “Magia”, with dark, gloomy theme and tragedy telling lyrics, completed the entire plot twist.
The entire Japanese anime community exploded almost immediately. To add oil on fire, Urobuchi Gen, the man who wrote the storyboard, posted on his twitter that this was planned all alone and he managed to deceive everyone.
In other words the entire Puella Magi Madoka Magica had a deception marketing campaign from the very start, everything was planned for months so to have this dramatic plot twist at episode 3, alternating the entire theme of the anime.
Hence the 3-Episode Rule was born.
In other words, **the 3-Episode Rules stated that you should not determine an anime’s theme until after episode 3 and the anime’s popularity is determined by the first 3 episodes, not that an anime is determined by the first 3 episodes.**
Though the wordings are similar, the concepts are very different. Former applied to almost every popular anime while the latter is nonsense, because even Madoka Magica itself does not fit into the latter description. Popularity does not always equals quality.
What made Puella Magi Madoka Magica the most critical acclaimed anime of all time, the only anime ever to win all three critical anime award, is not the dramatic twist at episode 3. But rather **an entire 12 episode worth of genius storytelling, astonishing visuals combined with unique music tone.**
While most people tend to forget, one of the reason the success cannot be replicated was that Madoka Magica even had help from mother nature. 2011 Tōhoku earthquake hit Japan on March 11, just after episode 10 aired on March 10, where the anime made the dramatic reveal and setup the final fight. As the result of the earthquake, the final two episodes had to be delayed until April 21st and aired back to back.
Therefore not only the delay pushed audience expectation to new height, it also avoided the downside of having to wait a week between finales. In certain areas of Japan the last 3 episodes were aired all together, making it feel more like a short movie. This greatly improved what had already been an amazing viewing experience.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica achieved what it achieved because it used the first 3-episodes to attract attentions and popularity of the public, and later supported the attentions with it story and animations. **The 3-Episode Rule needs both the former and the latter to work.**
Ironically this is very similar to how Lycoris Recoil, the highest BD sale anime of 2022, achieved its popularity.
Deceptional marketing: Lycoris Recoil was advertised as a slice of life anime, first PV did not even have guns.
Traditional opening: Episode 1 and Episode 2 show the Gun-fu and JKs.
Episode 3-4: This is Gun-fu but also……SAKANA~~~~~
Proceed with more reveal, plot twists and and intriguing story.
Notice it is at the 4th week of July anime that Lycoris Recoil first entered the streaming viewership ranking, after the “3-Episode Rule.”
The disaster of Chainsaw Man BD Sale will be discussed and analyzed for many years by both anime fans and professional marketing people, it has many contributing factors that cause the most hyped anime of 2022 or perhaps ever to flop so badly.
But one thing is for sure, it had nothing to do with the “3-Episode Rule.“