Summer 2014 Season Preview: Judging Anime by its Cover (Part 1)

As always happens, a new season of anime is upon us. That means a lot of new shows and the tedious (or exciting!) process of figuring out what’s worthwhile to watch. YAY! And, if you’re lazy like me, this becomes a contest of “let’s see just how quickly I can decide on a list of shows with minimal effort and information”. Or, in other words, trying to judge anime by it’s cover.



The 3 Episode Rule

In general, people recommend watching at least 3 episodes of any particular show you might be interested following before you drop it. This “3 episode rule” mostly comes about as a compromise: people generally don’t want to watch a bunch of crap, but also don’t want to miss a potentially great show just because it’s slow to really get going. If a show’s crap or a show’s great, 3 episodes is more than enough to solidify this. If a show’s  sorta iffy, however, 3 episodes gives you some time to understand the premise, get to know the characters, figure out some of the themes, and in general better figure out the show so you know more or less what exactly you’re going to be dropping.

While this type of compromise is a good idea in principle, in practice it’s a huge time sink. There are about 3 dozen shows airing next season, and following even 50% of them for 3 weeks on end is taxing. In addition, as many anime tend to be around ~11-13 episodes, the 3 episode rule essentially means you’re watching at least 25% of a show before you decide whether or not its worth following.

I don’t know about you, but to me that actually seems a little bit excessive/conservative as a standard. If we’re comparing it to books, the 3 episode rule would be like saying to a friend not to drop a 350-page fantasy or sci-fi novel until they’re at least ~100 pages in. Still, it’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, especially if you place a big emphasis on making sure you’ve made the “right” choices each season. For people like me, however, this tends to be a little too much effort just to determine which shows are worth your time.



So, what are the possible solutions? The easiest – and the most obvious – is to just follow people who will do this type of thing. If you understand each of their biases and preferences, you can essentially outsource all the work to them and pick up whichever shows seem the most promising to you. Of course, this means you might not be “up to date” with shows each week, but if you’re considering this option in the first place, it’s not a huge price to pay.

Another option is to just arbitrarily pick what shows look good based on the season preview, and just watch the ones that look interesting to you. Since most of the previews can be read within an hour (and if you’re skimming within minutes, most likely), you essentially can pick all your shows in the span it takes others to decide on one. Plus if you drop the shows you don’t like as you go along, you’ve really just minimized time spent watching crap.

The third (and in my opinion best) option, of course, is a combination of the above two. If you just follow a couple people who’re watching different shows than you (or just watching all of them), and their thoughts suggest you’d like a show you haven’t picked up, then you can just go back and start it. You watch what you like, stay (mostly) up to date, and avoid missing out on stuff completely.

SUCCESS. Fawning anime girl not included.

SUCCESS. Fawning anime girl not included.

Being Lazy

Inspired by Rym and Scott’s panel “Judge Anime by its Cover” at Anime Boston these past two years, I’m going to attempt to judge an entire season’s worth of anime as quickly and dirtily as possible. This will involve three steps:

  1. Trying to judge/predict a show’s elements based on nothing but the preview picture. This means no outside knowledge.
  2. #1, but also including the title, which can tell us a surprising amount about its content.
  3. #2, but also including the description, which can tell you about the target audience and enable you to quickly judge the setting. Does not include source material or genre classification.
  4. Including sparse outside information, like director, writer, voice actors, etc. I have not done any research for this, so this is all just “top of my head” type stuff and generally a crapshoot.

The goal here is twofold. First, I’m curious to see how well I actually do at predicting the content of each individual show, and how much information I actually need to do it somewhat accurately. Rym and Scott actually did a scarily good job using #3 both times I’ve seen their panel, but I’m pretty sure you can do well enough given just a picture.

Second, I’m hoping this process will actually allow me to peg decently well what shows I’ll likely be interested in following without much wasted effort. If I don’t drop or pick up any shows outside of the ones I pick here, that would be pretty awesome.



Quick Preamble

To avoid posting a ton of pictures (and because I’m lazy), I’m just going to go off the Summer 2014 Anichart from I’ll go through each of the shows in the chart from left-to-right and top-to-bottom (sorted alphabetically), and will refer to each of them by number before I list their title. Feel free to pull up the chart and follow along if you want to see the pictures I’m judging before you get the name. I’m also looking at the pictures side-by-side while I write this post, so they’re not even all that big (AKA I can’t see fine details).

Shows are divided into 3 categories based on whether I’m thinking of watching them (will follow, might follow, and won’t follow) and how I think I’ll like them based on my snap judgments (will likemight like, and won’t like). I’ll be doing 3 posts to avoid a massive list, each time with about a dozen shows.

Anyways, that’s enough rambling. Let’s get started with Part 1!


1. Ok. Most visible thing in the picture is the giant sword, and she’s holding another weapon. Hair is ridiculous. Definitely going to be a show all about violence. Probably hyper-violent. Likely gory. Long hair, clothing, and framing of the shot suggest “male gaze” anime type stuff though. So possibly a harem?

Initial opinion: Will follow. / Will like.

2. Akame ga Kill!. Ok. So hyperviolent for sure.

3. I see assassin, and pretty girl referenced twice in the first two sentences. So this’ll definitely be some type of harem/romance type thing, and is likely told from a male perspective with a male (probably without much presence) MC.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Will follow. / Will like.



1. This is going to be a hard-core sci-fi mecha show. Includes a ridiculous title in the picture, so probably a lot of jargon. Judging by imposing stature of mecha, likely going to involve fighting or war. Machines are mass produced in picture, so likely the latter. This will be much less like a “special mecha” show and much more a political/space opera type stuff. Machines also not in space: likely going to be a ground-based conflict? Only way that would happen would be if this was colonization of another planet, or some future Earth. So definitely some political drama, ideological issues, ethical stuff, loyalty, friendships, ties, etc.

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Might like.

2. Aldnoah.Zero. No surprise there. Nice and technical.

3. Oh man: reads like Mass Effect. And the colonization of Mars. And seeds of war. Good stuff.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Won’t follow. / Might like.



1. This is definitely a shoujo romance. Judging by the colors and art style, this is going to be a very “pure” show. I’m getting Sukinayo type vibes for some reason. There are flowers in the background, which suggests nature. The guy looks fairly typical “pretty boy”, girl is “shy, embarrassed”. They’ll come together, there’ll be drama, etc. The way it’s marketed though suggests it might be a simpler romance/drama story, without as many convoluted plot twists and alternate love interests.

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Won’t like.

2. Ao Haru Ride. Guessing this is either the name of the girl or the boy, or both.

3. Pretty much hit all the checkboxes: isolated, embarrassed, lonely. I didn’t see the “distance” aspect in it, although maybe the white hands in the picture should’ve informed me they had some boundary keeping them apart.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Won’t follow. / Won’t like.



1. Is that a guy or a girl? Ok – looks like a bishounen. Right – this is probably a show target towards fujoshi, with a hot guy. Look at the way he holds that microphone stand. Mhmm. Probably just going to involve him being a rock star in some strange time and place, forming a band (with other hot guys), and singing songs while girls swoon at his feet.

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Might like.

2. Bakamatsu Rock. What the hell is “Bakamatsu”? Probably should know.

3. Wow. Singing Heaven Songs controls the population, and these guys are going to rise up and challenge the establishment! That’s a bit of a twist on things – sort of like the visual kei version of AKB048 or something?

4. N/A

Final opinion: Won’t follow. / Won’t like.



1. This is going to be a cute show about flowers. The guy’s probably some vendor at a flower shop or something, or a botanist, and he travels around with the little girl doing things that’ll be nice and adorable. She’s going to be all the spunk in this show, while the guy will be bland and cynical (or just not very talkative).

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Might like.

2. Barakamon. Well, that gives me no help.

3. Ok – I was totally off. This is an exile story, and this famous (handsome) young calligrapher gets sent to an island. So it’ll be an iyashikei (healing anime) type thing, where the guy where learn to be at peace with himself or some similar shit.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Won’t follow. / Won’t like.



1. Ok – this is going to be a magical girl show. It’ll involve transformations, probably using that crystal, and the main heroine pictures will fight bad guys. In a simultaneously empowering but also sexual way, or course. Given how there’s only one girl picture, I’m guessing it’ll be a “monster of the week” type thing. She’s also along, and maybe looks lonely, so she’ll make friends and stuff. And wtf is up with that hair!

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Won’t like.

2. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon: Crystal. Well, something like “young female sailor” doesn’t seem to suggest anything.

3. Ok – looks like she’s searching for the crystal, not using it to transform. And there’s the contract stuff, the evil enemy, etc. Plus she’s finding friends! Yay for good guessing!

4. This is obviously the Sailor Moon reboot. Seeing as I haven’t watched the original, I probably should watch some of these as they air. It might also be a nice show to watch together with Rebecca.

Final opinion: Will follow. / Might like.



1. Man, look at all the characters in this picture. Color scheme suggests something exciting and upbeat, plus lots of the poses look like action-y stuff. People are holding weapons and dressed in crazy outfits, so likely a type of DEATH GAME style show. Yea, and there’s a crystal ball, so this’ll be likely something where a bunch of people have to kill each other with some overlord and a bunch of rules. Doesn’t look like it’ll be a depressing show though – so probably just more one the ridiculous side than the serious one. Characters are likely going to be wacky.

Initial opinion: Might follow. / Might like.

2. DRAMAtical Murder. If that doesn’t scream ridiculous death game, I don’t know what does. On the flipside, it also might be a murder mystery type thing. Which would make sense, given the crystal ball.

3. Ok – murder mystery type stuff. And the color scheme is wack because this is all inside a game and things of that sort of nature. So now this’ll be a ridiculous SOLVE THE MYSTERY PLAY THE GAME type thing.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Might follow. / Might like.



1. Ok. Clearly a magical girl show. Clearly target at men, and probably men okay with more lolicon-type stuff. Judging by the picture framing, we’ll follow center girl in pink, who’s not the best magical girl and furthermore is likely a clutz and relatively cynical about the whole thing. That smile says a lot. The girl on the right is likely her much more able sidekick, although she’ll be relatively deadpan and emotionless. The one of the left will either be the mentor or the evil villain. This show will be relatively upbeat, judging by the background. So probably just a fanservice-heavy show with nothing special about it.

Initial opinion: Won’t follow.Won’t like.

2. Fate/kaleid line Prisma Illya 2wei!. Yep, definitely a show targeted at hardcore lolicon otaku. Plus it’s a sequel, which means the original probably was much of the same and must’ve done decently well.


4. I love the Fate franchise (and Type-Moon in general), so I’ve seen the first season. I didn’t like it all that much then, but I’m a fanboy so count me in again.

Final opinion: Will follow.Won’t like.



1. This show is clearly marketed towards women. It’s going to involve swimming, judging by the clothes. All the guys are going to be friends, and they’ll swim and do things together, and the situations are going to be pretty sexual. They all will have slightly different personalities to allow for maximal uke x seme pairings. This will thus be unlike a typical shounen sports show, which ends up that way because fujoushi are clever. This’ll be much less sports porn and much more relationship-focused.

Initial opinion: Won’t follow. / Might like.

2. Free! Eternal Summer. Oh god that sounds like it could be a hot and juicy otome game.

3. Ok – this is a second season. So the first season must have been sufficiently high quality to guarantee this. Either insane fujoushi bait, or decently good. Probably the former.

4. I actually love Free!, so count me in!

Final opinion: Will follow. / Will like.



1. Cute girls doing cute things. Judging by the garterbelts, slightly sexual while still innocent, and marketed towards men. Guessing by the fish, these girls probably try and sell fish or something. They’re wearing similar outfits and jumping while waving and smiling, so likely idols for something

Initial opinion: Won’t follow.Won’t like.

2. Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita. Ok, so normal female high school students do something. Definitely idol-based.

3. So boohoo idol life is not actually that great in this town. Misadventures while we do weird things while being idols YAY.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Won’t follow.Won’t like.



1. Ok. So we have something related to drawing. The guy’s probably some prodigy, and the girl’s a love interest or assistant. He’s using ink, so it’s probably manga. They can’t be past high school judging by the uniforms. Judging by the white background and her smile and his confident pose, this’ll probably be lighthearted. Best guess is that this is some sort of romcom or lighthearted club-type show.

Initial opinion: Might follow.Might like.

2. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kunSo not just a mangaka (or aspiring mangaka), but a shoujo mangaka. Definitely a romcom.

3. “The romantic comedy story begins” NAILED IT. And ok – dense man, feelings of affection, simple setup.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Might follow. / Will like.



1. Speaking of club-type stuff, THIS is a show that’s club type stuff. 3 girls, 3 guys: this might have some drama, but probably will be lighthearted. Judging by their location (green background), this’ll be set in some more rural area rather than a big city. They’re all high school students. And the club they’re in is…my first guess is photography, but then wouldn’t it be easier to have them with cameras? Something to do with lenses then, I guess. So a club based around some oddball thing, where they’ll do things and relationships will develop and stuff will happen.

Initial opinion: Might follow. / Might like.

2. Glasslip. So is this a glass club or something?

3. Ok, so not a club, but rather the MC wants to be a glass artisan and these people all meet during the summer, which explains the background. So now there’s definitely the possibility of drama here, although it might just be a coming-of-age type thing.

4. N/A

Final opinion: Might follow. / Might like.


So, at the end of the day, it looks like I’ll definitely be following:

  • Akame ga Kill!
  • Sailor Moon reboot
  • Free! S2
  • Fate/kaleid S2

and I might be following:

  • DRAMAtical Murder
  • Nozaki-kun

One interesting thing I noticed at the end of this was that without additional background info, I only would’ve followed 1 show rather than 4 out of these 12. Which seems to imply, at least for me, that background info is important to avoid missing “good” shows that just might not have the pictures to match.

Another thing I noticed is what Rym & Scott called “the gun”. The “gun” is the place in every image that has the most detail, or is the most emphasized, and which generally gives information on the type of show (the example came from several images with girls holding guns, where the guns were by far much more detailed than the girls, indicating the show was for gun otaku). For Akame ga Kill, for instance, this turned out to be the blade, which clued me in on the fact that it likely is hyper-violent. Other pictures held similar clues. In all cases, if a picture has one, finding the “gun” seems like the best indicator of target audience as well as subject matter.

Finally, in no case did background information take a show that looked good and make it less appealing, which makes it seem that just judging shows based on appearance is a good way of essentially cutting out anything that is likely to be crap. Also, most often my opinion of a show based on picture alone came quite close to the final opinion once I added in more information (and my predictions looks pretty decent as well!). If my suspicions are correct, just glancing over the anime preview chart and picking out shows which look good to you or that you’ve heard things about probably is good enough when deciding what shows to watch each season. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself just yet – I still have 2 dozen more shows to go through…

So what do you guys think? Any shows you’re really looking forward to? Is anime worth more effort than this? (Noting that normally you’d not type all of these things out, so it’d be much quicker :p.) How about your own guidelines about picking up/dropping shows? Any elements that are deal-makers/deal-breakers? And just thoughts in general?

5 responses to “Summer 2014 Season Preview: Judging Anime by its Cover (Part 1)

  1. I completely agree with what you said at the beginning of this post – the 3-episode rule is solid enough, but only really works if a) you have a ton of spare time up your sleeve and nothing better to do with it, or b) you only have a small handful of shows you want to try out. Since I typically start off by trying out around 10 (or occasionally more) new titles with each season before whittling them down to maybe half that, it’s just not a practical way to go about things for me.

    • Right? Although a few hours might not seem like a lot, spread out over a few weeks and random timeslots (especially if you watch things soon after they air) is just plain exhausting.

  2. Pingback: Judging Anime by its Cover: Summer 2014 | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

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