Most of the big three have been around for about twenty years or more, and are still releasing new content in 2022 with hundreds of episodes under their belts. In stark contrast, the new anime trend involves complete series being released with only 6 or 8 episodes to boast of, without multiple installments.
There’s nothing wrong with a compelling short story, but these are being delivered with such frequency lately that many fans are feeling thoroughly unsatisfied. Some anime like Bleach and Naruto has been accused of being long-winded, while others show such as e.g Vampire in the garden and Detective Conan’s spin-off was so sudden and short-lived that many anime fans missed it completely. What brought about such a drastic change in anime content creation and how has it affected the industry as a whole?
Good old days
Anime has been around since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 80s that this genre really started to boom in Japan and about a decade longer to gain sufficient international exposure. With the unprecedented success of The Big Three and other successful toy-driven anime series, Japan created a popular niche for itself on a global level and greatly influenced both children and adults.
Anime production worked quite differently back then, requiring four separate industries to work together to achieve the desired result. First, the production team would select 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 is completed, a television network is brought in to complete the process, and by this time the animators are usually already in full swing on the next installments.
This system ran smoothly for the successful stories of Dragon Ball, Gundam, Sailor Moonand the like, and was quickly adopted by later series such as e.g Bleach, Narutoand Pokemon; all seemingly tapped into a bottomless well of source material. However, not everyone was as lucky, as many series bombed right out of 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 mostly already producing the next batch.
Today, it’s not uncommon to wait two years or more before a new season is released, as it seems wiser to err on the side of caution. The streaming services also have a lot more say in which Manga is adapted and how long it can run, too Netflix, Crunchyrolland Funimation leading the way in 2022. Drawing viewership by offering large amounts of diverse anime series seems to be more important than overall production quality in some cases.
Merchandise Matters (Or Maybe Not)
The toy factor also has a significant influence on the amount of time and money invested in an anime, since the introduction of corresponding toys and video games is, in general, almost always a huge success. However, this source of income cannot be transferred to all genres, as mainly Kodomomuke and Seinen anime seem to benefit from this relationship, leaving many others out in the cold. This aspect undoubtedly influences 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 extend a series if there is minimal interest in the goods. But when only the numbers are in focus, epic flops like March of Destruction come out of the woodwork, while other studios with limited merchandise potential (at least for kids) are scrambling to flesh out the story 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 biggest followings in Anime history.
The latest trend
Due to the economic crisis in Japan in the 1990s and early 2000s (dubbed “The Lost Decade”), several industries were hit hard and had to rethink their strategies as interest rates rose, stock markets crashed, and debt crises consumed the nation. Not only did sponsors have less money to hand out, but they became more hesitant to take risks; all bets were essentially off unless a financial return was guaranteed. So by releasing a short series of new content, the sponsor is not required to gamble too much capital as they can always review the audience reaction to the first 6-8 episodes before continuing with production. If the show is a flop, it’s much easier to cut ties by working with abbreviated, segmented stories, and significantly less time and energy is wasted on production overall.
Another reason (or a convenient excuse) behind several of these condensed series is due to limited 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 annoy fans by canceling an anime halfway through if they can complete the entire story in a few short episodes; no harm, no foul. But even in this case there are many shows, such as Cake Guru Twin, still manages to leave out a large portion of the content material from the adaptation, leaving many disgruntled fans yearning for more. Is the production team plotting for a second season, or are they just cutting corners where possible?
Does it work?
While most Anime series generally have between 11-24 episodes per season, the latest trend seems to support the notion that 6-8 episodes is perfectly acceptable. Generally speaking, these sudden spurts of anime series aren’t the most successful additions to the industry, not only because of the meager portion of episodes, but also the length of each one. For example, whole Detective Conan spin-off, Case Closed: Zero’s Tea Time could be watched in about an hour and a half, which completely eliminates the binge-watching aspect. Spriggan at least it amped up with 40+ minute episodes, but it still missed the mark, as per Forbesthe series”Can’t capture the magic of the manga.“
Dota’s attempts at game adaptation have received mixed reviews because Dragon’s blood tries to cram way too much information into a short time frame, and ends up confusing a lot of fans in the process (even after three seasons). The focus of each 25-minute episode jumps around like a child who can’t sit still, and many character developments weren’t dealt with adequately or left out entirely. Many Dota 2 fans enjoyed the show but felt that the episodes needed to be expanded in either length or quantity to more competently explore the intricacies of the story.
Tekken: Bloodlineshowever, seems to hit the nail on the head with only 6 episodes of 20+ minutes each, earning an average rating of 4/5 on Rotten tomatoes. Bandai Namco Entertainment managed to squeeze in enough Tekken 3 fanservice and epic fight scenes in this short amount of time to appease most die-hard fans while the story is open enough to possibly release a second season.