I almost didn't finish episode two of The Day I Became A God.
Please understand: this is really weird for me. This is a series from KEY Visual Arts, who created some of the stories that got me into anime to begin with. I have the same affinity for them that a lot of people carry for Blizzard Entertainment or a specific book series.
And it's certainly not like the studio has run its good will dry – at least not for me. I wasn't exactly enamored with 2015's Charlotte, either, but I at least finished the show. And by all reports, 2018's Summer Pockets is every bit the same breed of visual novel that made me fall in love with them (Localize the extended version, please!).
But I just… wasn't interested in this show. Sure, the first episode gave us a hook and promised a strong through-line. Fantastic powers in a mundane setting? Check. Hard countdown until Things Go Bad™? Check. Fun characters to ride it out with? Up to opinion, but still a check.
…and then the series proceeded to spend half the next episode lampooning twenty-plus-year-old Hollywood flicks.
I shouldn't have been so surprised, really.
This Isn't Unusual
The exact same complaints I have with The Day I Became A God are just as fair to level at CLANNAD, another KEY work that's also one of my favorite stories ever. Both implicitly come with the promise of drama, but instead while away their early hours on barely-relevant hijinks.
And The Day I Became A God is at least a short twelve episodes; it's not like getting even halfway through would be a colossal investment. After all, the aforementioned CLANNAD is 46-episode monolith whose most notable arc starts from episode 31. Heck, stories with strong starts like Angel Beats are more of a rare exception for them.
As I've called out before, there simply isn't enough time to give every piece of media that much benefit of the doubt.
I barely even track currently-airing shows any any more the way other people feel obligated to. Still, I have to triage the half-dozen shows that catch my eye and just as many recommendations down to two or three that I'll realistically finish.
There's even a moniker for how people specifically do this in reference to anime:
The Three-Episode Rule
It's as self-explanatory as it sounds, its spoiler-y origins aside: give any show three episodes to prove itself. If it still doesn't strike your fancy after that first hour or so, you at least gave it the old college try.
This is, of course, a hammer that shoves every shape and size of story through the same round hole.
You don't even have to look past the seminal nerd-culture shows to find counter-examples. Few people would keep watching The Next Generation after its rough first season. Few people would argue against it being a gold standard for science fiction television, either.
And it's no comparison, but the third episode of The Day I Became A God did not leave a great aftertaste.
On some basic level, yes, a story needs to engage its audience – preferably early-to-immediately.
On another level, how do you reconcile that with the catharsis of patient, slow worldbuilding, let alone something that genuinely stumbles early before recovering in the second half?
Or a writer who you know for a fact tends to spend the first act of eventually-serious stories on slapstick?
We're admittedly spoiled by the law of large numbers here. For any given show, or game, or book, somebody in some corner of the internet has read the whole thing. You can always find an assessment on if it “gets good later”.
But in some cases, we make educated guesses, or just trust our gut.
The Day I Became A God thrives on the latter, but that comes from past context. Without existing trust in a brand, it can just look like a show that's dropped the ball. Otherwise, only sheer determination gets viewers through a show that seems disinterested in its own premise of the literal end of life on Earth.
But sometimes, that's not so bad.
Oddly enough, the fact that I do have to wait for things to finally “take off” is probably what I love most about the stories that come out of KEY.
Sure, whiling your first act away with wacky-fun-times scenarios doesn't exactly follow the typical playbook on storytelling. But for me, it's generally time well-spent on the quickest way to get me invested:
Establishing a Rapport
As it turns out, I care way more about characters who feel like people. Who knew?
And you just don't get that as much with plot-heavy stories that get too straight to the point. Characters can act the pants off a scene, and it looks great in isolation. But if I've only ever seen them in hyper-dramatic scenarios 24/7, it just feels scripted and performative. If I've seen them goof off and play Dragon Quest with their friends, well, that's something that actual humans do.
I'm not even kidding when I say I'm way more invested in the well-being of characters in Slice-of-Life stories than I am in Luke Skywalker's.
The trick is that the story has to weave in candid, natural ways for the cast to express themselves. Create some space to stretch out in.
And this show can barely do much of that.
In KEY's first work, Kanon, the main conflict of the anime's third episode is deliberating on the best way to help an uncooperative – albeit amnesiac – runaway teen, and finding no perfect answers.
In The Day I Became A God, the main conflict of episode three is a loud, harebrained scheme to revive a failing restaurant over a long weekend, more or less successfully enabled by a hyperactive child's keen divination.
As you might imagine, one feels somewhat more organic than the other.
It's a needle that's hard to thread, sure. But The Day I Became A God constantly leaps from five feet off one side of it to six past the other. As much as nonstop melodrama feels manufactured, cartoonish hijinks doesn't give you much of a foothold.
Is it still worth my time to sit through that?
I'd still like to think so.
With the last two episodes left to go, I have to hope so.
Because along the way, this show still shows hints of what I already knew it was set up to do. It finds the time near the middle to finally let its cast breathe for once. They go for lunch, have a spot of cheesy-but-heartfelt self-discovery, and then go off ever-so-slightly changed to hang out the next day.
You know, the messy ebb and flow that real life tends to have.
I just had to spend a third of the darned series getting there, which is a shame for a studio that's been storytelling for over two decades.
Would I have stuck around without the good will I'd had built up from its predecessors?
But I still maintain trust for stories that understand the value of space. That find value in following a character's lunchtime routine, or detailing their latest harmless prank, or letting them play baseball for a spell. And while The Day I Became A God doesn't ever quite get there full-time, its trying-and-failing reinforces just how much I adore shows that do pull it off.
That might not hold true for everyone, sure. “Everyday shenanigans” just isn't a universally-appealing pitch for an episode of television. There's tons of reasons to want more density than that in a story.
But giving a person – even a fictional one – the room to express themselves is a sure way to build empathy toward them. Even if they're abrasive a lot of the time, it still gives you a sense of what makes each one tick.
And that's the kind of core you can really hang a drama on.
Even and especially if it ends up being a bit of a hokey mess.