You know how back in the day when we had like 5 options for anime and 2 of them were written for kindergartners so we just watched the same old show as everyone else, sometimes for years? Maybe we still do… Point is, since there were no real alternatives for anime fans, we tended to stick with a series pretty much no matter what.
Thankfully, our options have improved a lot since then and we no longer have to slog through shows we consider kind of boring or badly written. For most of us, there is more anime than we will ever be able to watch. But did we over-correct in the process? Are we now just randomly dropping shows at the slightest provocation never giving a decent story a chance?
I don’t mean me. I have the opposite problem where my OCD completionist side will bind me to the abstract notion of “finishing” way past the point of honest enjoyment. I’m not bragging. Don’t be like me, it’s silly. Adding titles to my completed list gives me way more satisfaction than is justified. I’m speaking fro observation rather than experience.
This thought isn’t completely random on my part but it is based on skewed perceptions. More specifically, because I don’t really know anyone who casually watches seasonal anime, I get my impressions from social media and other bloggers. Social media is never a good place to get impressions from as it exists in an exaggerated hyper “reality” and other bloggers aren’t the best representatives of the average viewer either. Still they are sort of vanguards of anime watching trends so even though my observations may not apply to the general public yet, I think there’s a chance they will some day.
Let’s get into some very recent examples to show you what I mean. When Dr Stone debuted last summer, it did so to a bit of fanfare. Crunchyroll was heavily promoting what they hoped would be another big Shonen success and the manga had been (is?) fairly popular. There was good reason to think this show would capture the audience and the premiere got a lot of largely positive attention.
However, the early episodes suffer from an unbalanced cast and this became extremely apparent a few episodes in. Moreover, the anime did rely on well worn tropes of making characters loud and excitable to entertain younger viewers through science based material which was a turn off to older audiences, as it usually is. As a result, I noticed that a month later, the buzz had died down significantly. Many bloggers decided to drop the show as did quite a few viewers if my comments are to be believed and it became a niche experience.
But the thing is, quite soon after that the narrative took a serious turn by separating the main character from the rest and introducing us to a completely new ensemble cast which fixed most of the issues I had with the show. Since then it’s been consistently entertaining and the few bloggers that stuck around seem to be fairly happy with it as well.
And then episodes 16 and 17 aired. This two part flashback giving us a greater context of what happened before the start of the series was just fantastic. Brilliantly paced, smartly developed and devastatingly emotional. These episodes were in my opinion just wonderful. The best episodes of airing anime I watched for those two weeks, by far and they have had a lingering impact on me.
As I read my fellow bloggers views on the new shows they’ve picked up, a lot of which weren’t overly enthusiastic, I thought to myself that they probably would have enjoyed Dr Stone more…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should pick up the show again or that you shouldn’t drop anything, but I do get the impression that viewers don’t give anime as many chances as they use to. In a way that could be a good thing, forcing shows to be of higher quality. Then again when “higher quality” is dictated by the tastes of the lowest common denominator, I’m not sure quality is still the best word for it.
The famed 3 episode rule does have another side effect though. It means a series has to front load its narrative. I once read that it’s considered good marketing to put in all your “heaviest” fanservice between episodes 2 and 6 (or 3 and 10 for a 24 do season). You need the first episode to establish your premise and make your character introductions but after you’ve gotten the story down, you have to hit them with the sex appeal to get them hooked and keep it up until your viewers are invested. Then you can ease off. I can’t say I’ve done an intensive study on this but I have noticed several shows where the fanservice sort of peters out after a while. This may also explain weird out of place fanservice that’s thrown in for a couple of episodes then seems forgotten.
It can also mean that a disproportionate chunk of your budget will go to your opening act resulting in visibly declining production values as a series progresses, with less and less high action sequences or more jagged CG.
Of course, a good studio (and team if writers) will know how to properly balance everything but it is still a consideration that must come into play and I have a feeling that certain narratives end up rather disadvantaged by it. Would something like Lain survive these days? Fist episode was amazing but then nothing happened for what would be a month of weekly viewings. That slow burn is part of the charm but would a studio still take the risk? I’m already hearing people grumble if a season isn’t in full swing by ep3.
Because I have a feeling at least one person will tell me I’m completely wrong and Lain was a thrill ride all the way through, let me just say I’m a huge fan of the show. And yeah, I know some people think Slice of Life are entire series where nothing happens, that’s also different. The series establish themselves and showcase exactly what they have to offer right from the start. In fact due to the episodic nature of the genre, they often have much shorter opening acts than series with overarching narratives. It’s a different dynamic than a show just taking a handful of episodes to even get to what it is.
All of this is based on personal observation mind you. Take it with a salt mine. I would be curious to know, have you noticed the same trends? Or are you seeing something completely different?