Some anime are harder to tackle than others. It’s not because they’re niche or complex or even plain old, but because of length and the lack of an obvious starting point.
I can divide them into the following categories:
- Anime that are very long (Legend of the Galactic Heroes, One Piece)
- Anime with multiple shows/movies (City Hunter, Sailor Moon, Slayers)
- Anime with different timelines/continuity (Gundam, Getter Robo, Patlabor)
For #1, we start at episode 1, and work our way onwards. For something like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which is one sprawling epic, it could be very intimidating. One Piece, however, is composed of arcs, which follow an overarching narrative but nevertheless are self-contained. Still, you’re going to be watching that anime for quite a while. A good number of people wouldn’t want to start something they think they wouldn’t be able to finish anyway.
For #2, we need to piece together a unified timeline that ties all shows together. Once we get that order, we’re all set. It can get a little hairy, like in City Hunter’s case, which has a bunch of movies interspersed between TV seasons. (Good thing I have a guide here.) While this is pretty close to #1, at least we could use the end of a season (or movie) as a break in the narrative. Feel like that last season wasn’t so hot? Then don’t watch the next one!
For #3, we almost always need someone (or something) to guide us. And that’s when people run. (Perversely enough, this seems to attract others, but I digress.)
Despite AU Gundam’s varying degrees of success, I sort of appreciate that it’s friendly to newcomers. A lot of people like Gundam SEED, and just its own timeline, because it’s the only one that clicked for them.
Myself? I don’t actually have a problem with #3. I find that I’m pretty good in getting on track with a story even if I started it from the middle. I think it’s because I’m a huge Wikipedia nut and I’ll just open up a page (or look it up if there isn’t enough information in the site to begin with) later if I have any questions. Being a writer too, I also want to see how a continuing show plays catch-up with its viewers when backstory is referenced.
I think my cavalier approach to continuity is based on my view that continuity should be a secondary (tertiary even) concern. Is the story good? Then good. Far too many nerds argue about continuity, often ignoring the actual quality of the stories themselves. I think it’s important not to think too much about the stuff that you don’t like (i.e. ignore them), and focus your attention on what you like instead. Because it’s all made up.
But sometimes, we just want a good, standalone story not bogged down by continuity. And, fortunately, there’s enough of them in anime.
PS: I get sad when I try to recommend the UC OVAs that are self-contained (War in the Pocket, Stardust Memory, and The 08th MS Team) to people who aren’t UC Gundam fans. The biggest hurdle is that these people ask about the One Year War, which all three are tied to, albeit loosely. Maybe my being a big Gundam fan makes me myopic to the difficulty of getting into these shows as a newbie, but they’re perfectly fine on their own. You don’t need to know what happened between Amuro and Char to appreciate the drama between Bernie and Al, etc.
PPS: I’m pretty sure this post expounds on canon and continuity a lot more than I could!