Most of the Big Three have been running for about twenty years or more and are still releasing new content in 2022 with hundreds of episodes under their belt. In stark contrast, the new anime trend involves complete series being released with only 6 or 8 episodes to boast in their lineup, with no further installments.
There is nothing wrong with a compelling short story, however, these are being delivered with such frequency lately that many fans are left feeling thoroughly dissatisfied. Some anime like Bleach and Naruto have been accused of being long-winded, whereas other shows such as Vampire in the Garden and Detective Conan’s spin-off were so sudden and short-lived that many anime fans completely missed it. What prompted such a drastic change in anime content creation, and how has it affected the industry overall?
The Good Old Days
Anime has been around since the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 80’s that this genre truly began to boom in Japan and about a decade longer to receive adequate international exposure. With the unprecedented success of The Big Three and other successful toy-fueled anime franchises, Japan created a popular niche for themselves on a global level and greatly influenced both children and adults alike.
Anime production worked quite differently back then, requiring four separate industries to collaborate to achieve the desired result. First, the production team would choose the content material and approach a sponsor for financial investment, with the promise of receiving either prime commercial time or suggestive product placement. After an animation studio is found and production complete, a television network is roped in to complete the process, and by this time, the animators are usually already hard at work on the next installments.
This system ran smoothly for the successful storylines of Dragon Ball, Gundam, Sailor Moon, and the like, and was quickly adopted by later series such as Bleach, Naruto, and Pokemon; all seemingly tapped into a bottomless well of source material. However, not everyone was quite so lucky, as many series bombed straight out the gate, but due to the seamless production line, it became difficult to cancel the show before even more time and money was “wasted,” as the artists were generally already producing the next batch.
Nowadays, it is not uncommon to wait two years or more for another season to be released, as it appears to be wiser to air on the side of caution. The streaming services also have a lot more say in which Manga gets adapted and how long it can run, with Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Funimation leading the charge in 2022. Drawing viewership by offering high quantities of various anime series appears to be more important than the overall production quality in some cases.
Merchandising Matters (Or Maybe Not)
The toy factor also has a substantial influence on the amount of time and money invested into an anime, as, generally speaking, the introduction of corresponding toys and video games is almost always a great success. This source of income is not transferrable to every genre, however, as mainly Kodomomuke and Seinen anime seem to benefit from this relationship, leaving many others out in the cold. This aspect undoubtedly affects the decision-making process as the sponsors and creators weigh up the show’s potential.
From a business point of view, it seems unnecessary to prolong a series if there is minimal interest in the merchandise. However, when only the numbers are in focus, epic flops like Mars of Destruction come out of the woodworks, whereas other studios with a limited merchandise potential (for children, anyway) put in the effort to flesh out the storyline to the fullest. Masterpieces such as Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece emerged while Japan was in crisis and still managed to amass some of the greatest followings in Anime history.
The Latest Trend
Due to the economic crisis in Japan during the 90s and early 2000s (dubbed “The Lost Decade”), multiple industries were severely affected and had to re-evaluate their strategies as interest rates increased, the stock market crashed, and debt crises consumed the nation. Not only did sponsors have less money to dish out, but they became more hesitant at taking risks; all bets were essentially off unless a financial return was pretty much guaranteed. So by releasing a brief burst of new content, the sponsor is not required to gamble with too much capital, as they can always review the audience’s reaction to the initial 6-8 episodes before continuing with production. If the show is a flop, it is much easier to cut ties working with abridged, segmented storylines, and significantly less time and energy are wasted on production overall.
Another reason (or a convenient excuse) behind several of these condensed series is due to restricted source material, as it can often take 2-4 volumes of Manga adaptation (on average) for a single anime season. Creators are less likely to anger fans by canceling an anime halfway through if they can complete the entire story within a few short episodes; no harm, no foul. However, even in this instance, many shows, such as Kakegurui Twin, still manage to leave a large portion of content material out of their adaptation, leaving many unsatisfied fans craving more. Is the production team creating intrigue for a second season, or simply taking shortcuts wherever possible?
Is It Working?
While most Anime series generally have between 11-24 episodes per season, the latest trend seems to support the notion that 6-8 episodes are entirely acceptable. Generally speaking, these abrupt spurts of anime series are not the most successful additions to the industry, not only because of the meager portion of episodes but the length of each one too. For example, the entire Detective Conan spin-off, Case Closed: Zero’s Tea Time could be viewed in roughly one-and-a-half hours, eliminating the aspect of binge-watching completely. Spriggan at least amped it up with 40+ minute episodes, but it still missed the mark, as, according to Forbes, the series “Fails To Capture The Magic Of The Manga.“
Dota’s attempt at game adaptation has received mixed reviews because Dragon’s Blood tries to cram way too much information into a short timeframe, ultimately confusing many fans in the process (even after three seasons). The focus of each 25-minute episode jumps around like a kid who can’t sit still, and many character developments were not sufficiently addressed or left out entirely. Many Dota 2 fans enjoyed the show but felt that the episodes needed to be extended in either length or quantity to explore the intricacies of the storyline more competently.
Tekken: Bloodlines, on the other hand, appears to hit the nail on the head with only 6 episodes running at 20+ minutes each, receiving an average rating of 4/5 on Rotten Tomatoes. Bandai Namco Entertainment managed to squeeze in enough Tekken 3 fan service and epic fight scenes into this short space of time to appease most die-hard fans while leaving the storyline open-ended enough to potentially release a second season.