This is should really be called: I want more short anime! There should be more short programs made each season. They are such nice little anime palette cleansers. Just a light snack to munch on. I really like being able to enjoy an entire series with minimal commitment. And of course, when you rely on anime consumption for content, the fact that you can watch a season in a day has certain perks as well.
And I know a lot of people who enjoy a good short program. Heck, even a run of the mill short program is fine. You’re a lot less likely to drop something that only takes up three minutes of your time. And yet, I rarely see more than a single offering per season on my streaming platforms. And I wonder why.
You would think that studios would jump at the chance of making these cheap little distractions. But when I dug into it, I realized that things weren’t quite as black and white as they appeared. There are in fact several very good reasons why there aren’t more short anime.
As most anime is adapted from manga, you need to find a story that will fit the short format. Often that means 4 koma which in turn often means comedies. Let’s not forget that it’s not only the length of the episodes that is shortened, but the entire season must also fit into what is often only a couple of regular episodes. So even a 4 koma may not be suitable if they have general story arcs to resolve that need more than 40 minutes to do so.
This cuts down on your available source material. When you factor in that you need something popular enough to get greenlit for anime adaptation, your really end up with slim pickings. So why not write original short programs? I think that goes back to the limitations of the format. Only certain stories can fit but moreover, there are technical considerations.
I, and most international otaku I believe, watch anime on streaming platforms. This means that the platforms pay a flat fee for a licence to distribute particular shows in specific regions for sets amounts of time. I’m not sure if there is a huge price difference to licence out a short program versus a regular series but I have to believe that length factors in.
However, anime does still air on actual networks and not that much streaming exclusive series exist yet. Which means series still have to sell commercials. Regardless of popularity, content restrictions or any of the other factors that play into advertising sales, you simply cannot fit more than one at most two commercials into a 5-minute timeslot. And your audience is less likely to be engaged. No matter how you look at it. Short programs make less money.
The idea is to offset the lack of profitability with lowered production costs. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can cut. Sure, you may need to work fewer hours to produce a shorter anime, but you still need a pretty much full cast and crew and they have to be paid a minimum fee. If you’re trying to get more prestigious talent, that you’re luring away from more stable long-term projects, that fee goes up quite a bit.
You still need all the same equipment and space. In the end, a 3-minute episode doesn’t cost 1/10th of what a 30-minute episode costs to make. It’s closer to 1/3rd. You can counter this a bit by bundling short skits together into fairly regular length episodes, as we’ve seen with certain comedies. Basically, what I’m saying is that at face value, short program series are less attractive options for most studios on purely fiscal considerations.
Because of that, a lot of short programs have been a little second rate. Even well-received charming ones such as I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, have very visibly limited production budgets. This, in turn, makes them less attractive and prestigious to work on and therefore it gets more difficult to attract talented people to the project.
I know it seems like absolutely everyone and their cat is desperate to work in animation so this shouldn’t be a consideration. However, I have a feeling that there’s a pretty big gap between dreaming about it and actually doing it. We would all be astronauts otherwise. Just me? At this point, the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studios don’t want to invest too much because they don’t think they’ll make the money back. Because of that, the production looks a bit cheap and salaries are lowered. Talent doesn’t want to get involved because they don’t think a cheap production would be popular and staff gets lured away by better wages. In the end, fans don’t tune in because the series doesn’t look that impressive and they don’t know any of the talents they seek out.
Unless a big studio decides to make a short a marquis project and really put some effort into it, it seems doomed from the start. They become nothing more than time fillers between “real” shows and no one expects anything of them. In theory…
In practice, this may not quite be the case. Sure, I have yet to meet a fan that lists a short anime among their favourites or anything, but they aren’t exactly maligned either. I talk lovingly about the adorable weirdness that is Orenchi no Furo Jijō whenever I have the chance. Luluco was quite well received and I haven’t really encountered any conscious short anime bias. We’ve been getting new titles regularly and some even look pretty good.
I do hope that’s a sign that the format is gaining in popularity or at least respectability. It’s a skill to tell stories in bite-sized increments and I hope we see more of it in the future.