‘Marathoning’ a series: does how we watch matter?

That's right ... ALL the episodes!

That’s right … ALL the episodes!

As rabid consumers of televised media, most people are eventually tempted by the marathon. There isn’t a specific definition governing the marathon, but the idea is to run through the entirety of a series as quickly as can be comfortably completed. It’s not a race or anything, but it’s a form of viewing often contrasted with a live viewing, where the series is watched as the episodes are aired. In both cases, the ultimate goal is to actually finish watching the series as opposed to just tuning in for random episodes.

Marathons aren’t unique to anime, but a few aspects lend anime series to the marathon viewing format. A typical series consists of roughly 24 episodes at 25 minutes each, and many series have defined beginnings and ends to the story instead of having each episode detached from a greater, overarching narrative. Exceptions exist, of course, particularly the animated adaptions of long-running manga series (usually shounen) and the pure comedy slice-of-life (Nichijou, Lucky Star), but a quick glimpse at seasonal anime listings shows that long-running series are the exception and not the norm.

A-anime? Fire it up!

A-anime? Fire it up!

Marathons are often considered for a number of reasons. Series don’t air forever on television, and interest in a particular title may be strong enough for a viewer to want to keep moving on without interruption. Similarly, some people simply prefer viewing a series in its entirety and not as it airs live. Others dislike being stuck at cliffhangers for a week or longer, and many simply don’t have the time to catch each episode as it airs.

Regardless of the reason, it poses an interesting question: does how we watch a series really matter? In terms of how we rate the overall experience after finishing the last episode, is watching a series all at once different from watching a series as it airs?

In my experience, marathoning is the most effective way to judge whether I really enjoy a series. For a title that is past airing, with all the content available at once, I can attempt the marathon and, if the length is reasonable (24 is the ideal number), I can see how eager I am to continue watching. If I’m consistently itching for the next episode without a lull in the action, I know it’s something that I am very interested in. This analysis does favor series that start with extremely quick pacing, like Sword Art Online or Accel World, and might run into a few bumps for a series that plateaus around the midpoint and is unable to recover like Mirai Nikki or Guilty Crown. For reference, here’s a quick look at my favorites list as of today:

  1. Card Captor Sakura
  2. Hayate no Gotoku
  3. K-On!!
  4. Lucky Star
  5. Clannad: After Story

Note that this is a favorites list, which says nothing of my critical perspective on them. All five of these series were ones that I first watched by marathoning. They all made an impression on me, to say the least.

But what about viewing a series as it airs? Rather than getting bombarded by a large amount of content at once, is there a difference in viewing something in weekly installments? The same argument that applies to the marathon can apply here: if you’re wanting the next episode badly, you know you’re enjoying the series. For me, the difference is that I’m less inclined to continue ‘giving a series a chance’ if it’s airing and my interest is wavering. I drop many more series that are airing as opposed to ones that I could marathon (with the exception of extremely long series, which could just be burnout). But I also find airing series less memorable overall than ones I marathon.

We love these characters so much!

We love these characters so much!

It’s an interesting thing; I would think that moving along with a series as it unfolds would make me bond more closely to the characters. After all, if the series is good, it’s like you’re slowly watching the development of a character through an entire season — but for me, the attachment doesn’t feel as strong. The best example I can think of at the moment is the Shakugan no Shana series. I ran through the first two series very quickly, and all at once, while the third series I watched as it aired. Despite being emotionally invested into the series for years and knowing that The End was less than a season away, I just didn’t feel as strongly for the characters as I did barreling through the previous two series. Admittedly, SnS’ Final was a bit flaky when it comes to choosing a narrative voice, so that may have been part of the problem. I still felt at the edge of my seat after each episode and eagerly awaited the next week’s installment, but there was something lacking in my attachment.

The Rebuild of Evangelion illustrates an interesting middle ground. It is a re-imagining of the original EVA as four theatrical releases. Since each movie serves as a standalone entry with its own climax and resolution, the pacing is very reminiscent of a marathon. Yet it is part of a planned series of four movies, with years between the installments. I show a surprising attachment to Mari, one of the new characters, moreso than the original cast. This is not very typical of my encounters with airing series. Perhaps this release format is the type I’m most suited to; the series of four could be the full marathon, while each individual title is more of a sprint.

Marathoners --- try not to end up like this.

Marathoners — try not to end up like this.

Is this applicable to existing series? I sprinted through Shakugan no Shana S1 and S2, but the marathon still had S3, which I walked through at a weekly, leisurely pace. If I had waited for S3 to finish and sprinted through it, would I have enjoyed the entire series more? Or would I have found the best results by watching all three seasons at once?

I may try a sprint for a series that is currently unfinished. There are four series airing this Spring that I have already seen, both through marathon and weekly viewing: OreImo, Nyarko, Hayate no Gotoku, and RailgunNyarko is a series that I watched last year as it aired, while Railgun was marathon’d. I like them equally, and considering that neither are likely to conclude their stories in the upcoming season, they might be ideal for a sprinting experiment. At the end of the season, will I have enjoyed the live or sprinted series more?

It’s almost certainly a preference that varies from person to person, but since one of the main purposes of this blog is to shell out thoughts and reviews about anime series, it might behoove me to make sure that I’m providing equal opportunity for all series to be enjoyed at their peak. Just a thought. I may be over thinking, but I actually want to enjoy every series I watch if possible, so there’s no harm in giving it a shot.

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4 thoughts on “‘Marathoning’ a series: does how we watch matter?

  1. In my case, marathoning series tends to push them towards the average, while watching them weekly towards the extreme. I marathoned through Hidan no Aria and having no time to dwell on the weaknesses of the show helped me enjoy it. But if something is going to be my all-time favorite, I /want to/ dwell on the tiny details, research stuff about the show, take part in discussions on the net etc. That said, there are shows that do well when marathoned and those that do not. The most obvious factor is that action and cliffhanger-packed series work great for marathons, whereas slow-paced slife of life might tire you out. Mushishi is one example of a high quality anime that I had ready for a marathon, but ended up taking a longer time to get through. It’s episodic nature makes it more natural to take breaks while watching.

  2. I definitely think that pace has a lot to do with it. Still, there are some series that don’t move particularly fast and are pretty long, but I was able to go through them extremely quickly (Hokuto no Ken and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, both between 100-200 episodes). HnK is definitely action, though. LoGH though — I guess that one’s suited since there are so many perspectives that the plot shifts around to, so there’s never really a dull moment.

  3. For whatever reason, I find it very easy to marathon dubs but more difficult to stay focused when it comes to marathoning subs. It’s probably the extra effort of having to read and my subconscious getting tired quicker.

    I think the experience differs from show to show. Sometimes I’ll be more patient with a show I’m viewing week by week but get frustrated with it when marathoning, and sometimes it’s the opposite.

    • I find it depends a lot on the pacing and how good each episode’s cliffhangers are. A series like Geass or LotGH were very easy to marathon for me, since there’s the plot drive to keep watching, rather than something episodic like slice-of-life comedy shindigs.

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