‘It Gets Better’ Is Not Always Better


A few nights ago, I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the first time in my life. My thoughts on it are not great—in my own words, I described the first hour as “rubbing my face against a boulder.” However, one thing I can appreciate about the film is that it gets better, as the second half of the film provides a lot of the dumb action fluff the first film does to near perfection, which helped alleviate the pain of the first half’s ruefully irritating shenanigans. Even with this, I gave the film a painfully low score of 3/10, as the first half’s lows overtook the limited enjoyment I felt for the second half’s revival, mostly because the end didn’t justify the means in a way that allowed me to give a damn about any of it. It got me thinking of the times when people would recommend various TV shows and anime with the discretion that it “gets better over time.” The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a nice way of saying, “This series’s highs are better than its lows.”

As a watcher of most things visual media, particularly of the Asian variety, the discretion of “It gets better” is something I’ve come across a number of times, whether directly addressed to me or to others. I’m sure I’ve said the phrase a few times myself, though recently I’ve tried to shy away from it. With the combination of my own belief that anime almost never gets better and the added expectations placed when throwing that phrase around, it creates a conundrum that’s better left for an uncommon few.

katanagatari quote

In a more realistic manner, things are supposed to get better over time. To say that a certain series “gets better” is almost redundant, as characters, story, animation, etc. are never fully developed through the first couple of episodes. If a series were to not get better, whether by an objectivist’s sake or a structural sake, then the phrase would make more of a compliment. With as vague as the three-word combo is, this could mean any number of things, including the development of a number of different aspects. From my own experience, it’s usually meant to imply that characters become developed and their actions worth caring for, thus improving the mood and the overall entertainment value. Still, what’s to say it can’t mean anything?

Among the most common type of shows this phrase gets attributed to are the long-running popular shows a la The Walking DeadGame of Thrones, or any of the popular anime adaptations of Shounen Jump manga. True as it may be to insinuate that longer-running shows get better as they go on, the important thing to note is when. When does the series starting getting “good”? How long is a person willing to sit through mediocre or dull slop before pacing themselves for the good to come through? Is the recommendation of One Piece really a recommendation if it doesn’t start getting good until episode 207? Is Naruto a good recommendation if “It gets better” in Shippuden? Time is valuable to certain people, and if the “good” doesn’t compensate for the “bad,” then they’ll leave feeling disappointed, especially if they watched 206 episodes to get to that point. I’d rather not place unneeded expectations on a series when it could backfire harder than it could reward.

I trusted you!

As stated in the first paragraph, there’s a fine line between good and bad, with the balance of the two being the difference between being disappointed and being relieved. For me, The Temple of Doom had far too much bad to make up for it with some trivial good in the end. Allison to Lillia is a series I felt similarly about, except reversed; the first thirteen episodes were charming, if not illogically defined, while the last thirteen episodes undermined all of it and sank it into the depths of mediocrity. The reasons for the two examples are different, but mirror each other with a sudden dip/rise in quality. To say “It gets better,” one should be aware of what the recommendee considers good or bad, what they value, and whether one is confident enough in the show’s good qualities in overshadowing the bad. I also read a blog post recently describing how one show’s good was essentially ruined with one epitomizing episode of pure bad.

In one last argument against it, “It gets better” can be construed as parts of a series being blatantly mediocre. One can understand that a series needs time to develop upon the things it wants to convey, especially those within the genres of drama or psychological thriller, but if it gets better, that might just be saying the genre works, not that the entire product is worth watching. It creates a one-dimensional mentality that if it succeeds in one aspect, the rest can be ignored as non-important. I realize this idea can be far-fetched, but better to cover everything than skim. Perfect Blue is an example of something that I would say “gets better,” as its structure dictates that every detail matters in displaying its messages and intrigue. This doesn’t mean I feel the entire product is perfect, just that it succeeds very well in one thing in particular, and only because the other integral aspects are done well enough to make said one thing succeed. Code Geass’s first season also “gets better,” and unlike Perfect Blue, it’s in spite of its earlier meandering and not because of it.

cut it out

People have the freedom to say what they want when they’re recommending things, even if those things don’t necessarily help the recommendation. For me, to say “It gets better” is nothing more than an empty proclamation without the details to ensure its legitimacy. There’s too much at stake with the time available to those who pursue the art of binge watching. Whether it ends up planting the seeds of disappointment or undermining the show’s ability to pace itself, saying “It gets better” is not always better.

6 thoughts on “‘It Gets Better’ Is Not Always Better

  1. I felt that way about Re:Zero. I tried twice to watch the first episode and gave up both times because I couldn’t stand the protagonist. I keep getting told that you end up liking him (or at least appreciating him) and it is still worth watching the show, but that level of irritation was something special and I’m thinking I’m never going to watch that anime through regardless of how brilliant it apparently becomes later on.
    Though, I will mention that Temple of Doom is actually very good if you watch it when you are 10. The earlier parts are quite funny and the later parts thrilling. As a result of having fallen in love with it as a kid, even now I can’t dislike it, even though I agree it is pretty silly.

      1. My mum always said Temple of Doom was her least favourite of the original trilogy, but my sister and I loved it. Now that I’m older, I get what she meant. It isn’t very good. Still, I think Shortround really does appeal to kids in the audience so Temple of Doom probably works better there.

  2. Fantastic piece you’ve written here.

    I can think of a few exceptions that prove the rule but they are always unique. For example, my least favorite part of Jojo is part 1 but without it the others would not be able to exist, it would be impossible to have part 2 as part 1 in it’s case. And you can probably see this as somewhat intentional, once Araki had done part 1 he had an audience now willing to try the increasingly bizarre things to come. No one could get on board with the show without the easing in of part 1.

    And in Psycho-Pass it’s the same thing for me. The first 5 episodes weren’t as good as the rest on first viewing, but without their world building the rest of the series would be impossible to execute (although on second viewing they do offer a lot more.)

    However in both these cases it’s a case of good becoming great. While I would say the moment that would hook most people in either series (Jojo Ep.10 and PP Ep.6) is not at the start I wouldn’t feel I would have to say this to someone to get them watching.

    But really man just get to ep 458 of One Piece, I swear it’s worth the wait.

  3. This was fun to read. I share a similar opinion. Shows do normally get better over time. So when I hear people use “it gets better” to justify a high rating for a show, it feels like handing out a participation trophy. Like “hey, you did something a show is supposed to do. Here’s an award.” I do believe that, like you mentioned, sometimes the good parts of a show can make up for the bad.

    I also think the first few episodes of an anime should set up the precedent for how the rest of the anime is going to be in terms of theme, content and structure. Normally this is true for shows. So when I hear a show “gets better” that in my experience means that it ends up becoming something different than what it presented itself as initially. Sometimes that works in a shows favour and sometimes it falls flat.

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