How long is long enough? From 12 episodes to 400: the question of show length


One of the biggest gripes of the common anime fan is that the length of a show is too short or maybe too long. Some people get angry with the amount of filler episodes in a show while others get frustrated that shows that could have been brilliant did not have enough time to develop all of the important characters.

I’ll start by addressing the issue of shows being too long. Before I started writing this article I did a quick search for the longest running anime show of all time- apparently a show called Sazae-san has been running in Japan since 1969 and has clocked over 7000 episodes. Maybe that’s a bit extreme, let’s have a look a bit further down the list… ah, One Piece. Now this is not a show I have ever watched and as such I would not want to pass judgement on it all in anyway, however, I can imagine that it would be easy to complain because of it’s 681 aired episodes to date. I am tempted myself to ask question like: ‘Is every episode relevant?’ or ‘Is this an anime that is showing one story or a series of stories with just one character?’. Either way, to the One Piece delinquent, it would need some explaining before I decided to go ahead and start watching it.

This is from episode 1 of One Piece apparently. But you knew that already, right?

In all seriousness, I am not sure that I could cope with the amount of filler episodes that a show like this must have by necessity of it’s length. And more than that imagine tuning in to your favourite long running show only to find that the very exciting story has been interrupted by a trip to the beach (I might not know lots but I know about beaches and anime). I couldn’t imagine anything more frustrating, not only would it ruin the flow of the story but it would also be a waste of time.

You might ask me, ‘what about character building? Don’t you need lots of episodes to build up your characters?’ Well, actually I happen to agree with you, but only up to a point. Yes, of course not developing your characters is a problem (I’ll come to talk about it more in a minute, hold on), but surely if the story is working then the characters are being developed anyway. Development for the sake of development seems a bit of waste, particularly if you have a story to be telling at the same time: the two really aren’t mutually exclusive.

In truth this is just a rant about something I know very little about, unless you count Yu-Gi-Oh (which, it has to be said, is very good), the longest anime I’ve watched is Full Metal Alchemist, coming in at just over 50 episodes. Most people reading this will probably find that the problem they have had with the length of shows is that they are too short.

Yu-Gi-Oh had it all. Great characters, interesting plot, loads of emotion and a, uh… cool card game.

The problem comes from the amount of air time Japanese TV stations can give to programs, that being generally either 12 or 24 episodes. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of both 12 and 24 episode anime seasons out there that are very good and should not be taken as included under the rest of this article. That said, there are some shows of these lengths that make me wonder if it would have just been better not to make them at all. The best example of this that I’ve seen so far would be Deadman Wonderland, a show that I reviewed last week. For whatever reason, the show was only 12 episodes long and there can be no doubt that this was 12 episodes too short.

Deadman Wonderland is an extreme example because the story just stopped. Most of the time, the problems aren’t quite so obvious. I’m going to use a very well known, but almost certainly contentious example to make my point: Angel Beats! is a 13 episode anime that is widely loved across the community. I myself am a big fan. As anyone who read my opening article or my top 5 anime list will know, I rate Angel Beats! very highly. However, have you ever considered how it could have been if we knew Kanade’s back story? What about TK? Or Takamatsu? Were these not character’s who stories’ would have added to the overall plot? Despite what you think of the show, I think most would agree that by having an extra 9 or 10 episode to fill out the back stories of particular characters, the overall quality of Angel Beats! would have been higher.

There are of course other examples even from my small list of shows, think: Oba Nobuna no Yabuo or Freezing. This, however, isn’t to say that short shows don’t work. One of my favourite seasons of anime, Little Busters! Refrain, was an excellent show with only 12 episodes, but it only worked because the first season was 24 episodes and took the time to tell the stories of all the important characters.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is an answer to the question of this article. With the right people in charge and a good story to run with a 12 episode show can be just as good as a long running show with hundreds of episodes. Sometimes though, these extremes in length let shows down, and that makes the question worth asking.

Received Comments:

10/04/15 09:26: The OnePiece fillers are actually really good, and its based on a manga thats been going almost as long as I have, and most of the episodes convert one or two chapters, its good and the animation is strong. The story is subdivided across individual arcs of one story, but they’re each linked. I can understand why you might not like it, but compare it to Naruto, and you’ll soon realise that as far as long anime goes… you probably picked the wrong one to pick out about its filler and story.

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