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.

shorts are cool

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.

some stories are just too epic to fit into a short program

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.

saiki k
I would like a 3rd season, please

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.



26 thoughts

  1. If you’re into shorts… I can’t believe you haven’t watched Encouragement of Climb. Shorts don’t *have* to be comedy or have low production values.

  2. I find that shorts are among the most likely anime to never hit the west. Of all the anime that even had their fansubs cancelled I wanted to watch around 2/3 are shorts (the second season of Gakkatsu comes to mind, and Francesca a show where a zombie idol teams up with a historical person and his statue to defeat undead Shinsengumi).

    A lot of shorts don’t seem to be otaku anime. I’m thinking of stuff like Michiro Neko, which is all about a lot of cats squeezing into tight places. This season’s Pirikarako chan, for example, seems more rooted in mascot culture than otaku culture I feel (but I’m not expert).

    Some classics make the most of the format, like Teekyu, where being a short anime is part of the joke: there’s about one gag every two seconds; there isn’t even half a second of silence, and all the characters attempt to talk as quickly as possible. It helps that the show doesn’t need to make sense.

    Then there’s experimental stuff: well produced show that seem to test the waters. An example would be Nyanbo, a show about space cat robots who collect raw materials for their spaceship (well, one of them – most others just fool around). It’s completely CGI animated characters in a real-life setting, and they blend in extremely well (there’s a real cat everyone’s afraid of, for example, and you can see the cat’s playing with some toy, but the toy’s replaced with the characters – it’s amazing how well that works.) Or the five minute horror Kagewani, which uses the Southpark cut-out technique with more realistic art – shouldn’t work, but is actually excellent.

    In my experience there are about two 10 minute shows per season, so I’m guessing there might be some anime TV time slot that bunches two shows together in a regular time slot, like the Ultra Super Anime time block in 2015/2016 (which aired Luluco, Kagewani, Hackadoll, Sekko Boys and others). I don’t know, though. (This season, Tejina sempai and Sou Nan Desu-ka? both are 12 minute shows that air the same day, so it’s not a stretch to think there’s such a time slot.)

    Fetish shows are often shorts. I don’t tend to watch those. Currently, there’s Miru Tights, and then there was that odd show where a guy tricks girls into showing him their panties with a disgusted look on their face. These shows can get really weird, if you don’t have that fetish. They started fairly tame with Makura no Danshi.

    And finally franchise chibi shows, like last season’s Isekai Quartet are usually shorts. Idol shows have them a lot. Attack on Titan had one the re-imagined the show as a highschool comedy and was better then the original (unpopular opinion, I suspect).

    I like shorts, but they’re not always easy to find, and some of them are just not available. Sometimes I don’t even know they exist. Last year I discovered a short of Crunchy called Donyatsu which is a dead-pan post apocalyptic slice-of-life comedy, where the characters are half mascot animal and half sweets. With characters like Donyatsu, Kumacaron, or Baumcougar, this is a really odd show. It aired in 2013: I was watching anime regularly back then but never heard of this show until I spotted it in the Crunchy list. I think many shorts may have unusual distribution and license modes, which may not get them listed. I don’t know.

  3. I really enjoyed Voice of Fox as a short anime and there’s been a few other anime with 12 minute length episodes that I’ve quite liked over the last couple of years. I do find the short length easily digestible in a fairly heavy watch list. However, as you said, by and large short anime tend to be comedy based which doesn’t hugely appeal to me. Then again, probably the short anime that had the greatest impact on me was Pupa which is utterly disturbing horror. I actually kind of wish they made another season to finish the story because it really got me drawn in and then just kind of stopped.

      1. I somehow doubt that at this point. I don’t mind comedy used within a story but comedy as the purpose of the story I find just kind of grating.

  4. I’d love to see a few mroe good shrot ones appear. Nyanko Days and Kaiju Girls both kept me entertained throughout even with the short length of each episode.

      1. In some ways, I’d say that must make it harder for the writers. When it’s done well though, it can be really effective working within the shorter time frame.

        1. I can’t tell which would be harder. I suspect it may be entirely different approaches all together. Like movies and comnercials maybe?

  5. I would certainly like to see short anime whether they are short films or anthologies. The stuff Robot Communications have made is really on point such as The House of Small Cubes, Golden Time, and Tortov Roddle. Rain Town was a great short as well and it was a student project. People also forget that Makoto Shinkai himself started out with short anime with She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star (the latter is my 2nd favorite Shinkai work after The Place Promised In Our Early Days).

    1. One off shorts are a bit more frequent. I’m seeing a bunch this summer on the festival circuit

  6. Netflix made Love Death and Robots here as an anthology series with different artists making episodes 8 to 16 minutes long. I would think a format like that with different themes could work well.

  7. Count me in, I am a fan of some of the short anime you listed. I also find some of them to be more original or take risks that others don’t.

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