How to Destroy your Anime Backlog

by Zac Bertschy,

Every fan has one: that enormous pile of anime you've “always meant to get around to watching” but never did. A backlog can quickly turn into an enormous bummer – you'll start a new show, only to wonder if you should take something from the backlog instead. As you start the latest episode of Sound! Euphonium, the ghost of Psycho-Pass hovers behind you, wailing from beyond the grave, “but I thought you wanted to watch ME? Everyone said how good I was! You were all excited for dystopian sci-fi! What happened?!”

An out-of-control backlog can make even selecting a new show an enormous stress-inducing trial. Here are some habits and attitudes I've picked up over the last 15 years to slay the vicious backlog beast.

Keep an actual list

This might seem both incredibly obvious and incredibly nerdy, but half the reason you see people asking for anime recommendations (which I would posit makes up roughly a third of all conversation on any given anime forum) is because they had a show in mind that sounded interesting or was hyped up a few seasons ago but they don't remember what it was. Keeping an actual written list of anime you'd like to get around to one day is pretty dorky but it helps you quantify and catalog the actual number of shows you really meant to get around to. Maintain the list; if something seriously catches your attention and you aren't sitting down to watch it right this instant, add it. Once you hit a dry spot and you're looking for something to watch, you can just call up the list and pick something.

Prune that list regularly and without remorse

This is tough one, but it's crucial to maintaining a backlog that you might actually blow through one day. Anime right now is a medium unlike any other in the world, where every 3 months we're given 30 or more new 12-26 episode series. There is an insane amount of content, virtually all of it is available streaming legally in some form of English, and if you follow fan conversation on Twitter or elsewhere most of it will be eagerly, passionately recommended to you. If you're like me, and you can't help but be insatiably curious about this stuff to the point where you're willing to check out basically anything, this can result in a list that's 50+ titles long.

This is where the hard choices come in – you have to regularly prune that backlog list. Go down the list one by one and do a gut check. When you read the name of a show, does it immediately inspire you to go pop in an episode and take a look? No? Take it off the list. Did you put a show there not because it intrigued you, but because people were talking about it a lot back in Winter 2013 and you wanted to be part of the conversation? The ship sailed, take it off the list. You have to be merciless. The idea “someday I'll get around to this show I'm only marginally interested in watching” is how we create enormous, unmanageable backlogs to begin with. Cutting the chaff and disabusing yourself of the notion that you have enough time to watch everything you were ever even kinda curious about has to go. It's a crucial part of this process: winnowing your personal list down to only the stuff you know you're actually motivated to watch and being completely, brutally honest with yourself about which shows those are.

Smile and nod and then feel free to ignore recommendations

If you're friends with a whole lot of anime fans – or just follow conversation online – the odds that you're going to encounter roughly 8 million series recommendations every week are very high. Anime fans are passionate about what they love and they want nothing more than for you to share in their enthusiasm, and that means you're going to be told that you absolutely need to watch dozens of shows every month. That's fantastic, but once you get caught up in that community, listening to all those people it can almost immediately turn your backlog into an unwieldy mess chock full of shows you only half-remember why you wanted to watch in the first place.

Here's the thing: outright rejecting recommendations can come across as incredibly rude, and just saying ‘sorry but I've already got a million things to watch’ sounds dismissive. Fans open communication with recommendations for the things they love; if you're new to their social circle and they excitedly foist Kill la Kill on you and you just shut them down, you're going to have a tough time making friends.

So how do you handle this without sounding like a dismissive douchebag or making your backlog a million times longer every time you hang out with anime fans? Nod, smile, say “sounds cool, I'll have to check it out!” and then decide later if you're actually interested or not. If you are, toss it on the list. If not, ignore it. You were polite enough – if it comes up again and you decide you weren't interested, tell them you saw the trailer (which you did) and it didn't grab you. If they push harder, that's on them, not you. You can be merciless in your decisions about what to watch without actively pushing away people who want to connect with you via media; just nod, smile, and say you'll take a look. Don't commit further and don't feel like you “owe” them the entire runtime of the show.

Just pick something and start

For most people, this is the biggest stumbling block.  We exist in a world where someone can have a bookshelf full of anime and 5 different streaming media destinations with millions of hours of art ready to watch at a moment's notice and we're still bored. That list of anime you've been curating winds up resembling a list of chores, stuff you feel obligated to get around to but just don't have the time and you'll get to it, I swear, just leave me alone about it. This is how we develop an enormous backlog of stuff we never get around to because we internalize it as a bunch of stuff we “should” do, not a bunch of stuff we want to do. It's why a new episode of a show you're already watching is infinitely more exciting than starting a show that's been around a while but you haven't gotten to yet; the new thing is entertainment. The old thing is work.

But it isn't work, it's a TV show, something you might love, and agonizing over which thing you should watch first gets folded into the nightmarish maze of excuses for never touching your backlog that we all use to justify scrolling through Netflix instead of finally getting around to watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The solution is simple: pick a show on the list and start watching it. Just pick one. Don't think about it. Shut your eyes, point to something, and that's it. Don't ask your friends “which of these 5 shows should I watch”, don't weigh one option against the other, pick a show and start episode one. Don't even stop to get snacks or a drink first – start the episode. Stop looking at twitter, put your phone down, start the episode. Whatever the first show you landed on was – start watching it.

Doing this cuts past every single hem-haw excuse you have for not starting anything on your backlog. It gets results. Do it.

…but don't be afraid to stop watching something

The final piece of the puzzle is another excuse that gets folded into and is inherently part of every title on your backlog: what if you don't like it? What if you dedicate a bunch of time to this show and it sucks, or it just isn't grabbing you? If you were really that interested in it, wouldn't you have started the show back when it was airing and everyone was all excited about it?

This is where it's time to be brutally honest with yourself once again. If a show hasn't grabbed you in three episodes, you've officially tried. Three episodes of anime is roughly an hour of your time if you skip the OP/ED, which is more than enough. That's it – nobody can fault you for not trying the show. If you aren't entertained, if you don't care, if you're watching just so someone won't badger you about it anymore – it's okay. Hit the stop button, close the window, turn off the TV, whatever – put a stop to it. This is entertainment, you're supposed to be enjoying yourself. If you aren't, walk away. Pick another thing.

Fundamentally a backlog boils down to something a little less happy than it might appear at first glance: it's a list of stuff you haven't made time for. Everyone leads busy lives, but when a TV show or a film calls to you in the right way, you'll make time for it. The backlog isn't stuff you don't have time for, it's the stuff you haven't made time for yet, and if you're thinking about it that way, making the decision to stop watching something because it's wasting the time you made for it becomes a lot easier.

Do you have any tips for getting rid of your backlog? How do you manage the list of stuff you keep meaning to get around to? Share your secrets in the comments!

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