Image from Saiyanisland.com
Let’s just be fair: Anime is a business. The longer that business runs, the more money you make. Ergo, you will find a crap-ton of shows that are stretched as far as they can, and then stretched some more, just to keep the buck rolling.
Now fans like myself are no stranger to animes that last for 100+ chapters, and 200+ episodes. Sometimes the on-going story is a fun adventure, an old friend you’re always excited to see. Other times it’s this long-winded experiment, something that overstayed its welcome despite all signs saying it should have gone home. The difference between the two is razor-thin, and the amount of pitfalls to dodge can drive any writer insane. If any anime is going to last longer than 20 episodes, it needs to conquer the following hills:
- 99 Problems
Most long animes break down to a series of problems: Protagonist Dejour wants A, B, and C, and has to deal with an almost never-ending series of obstacles to get there. The problem arises when that stream of issues feels like it really is never-ending. If your fans feel like they’ll never see the end goal, there’s no real incentive to watch. Maybe your ending isn’t for another 500 episodes, but you need to make it clear that there will be a point to this constant madness.
One Piece is running this thin line to this day. It has more than 700 manga chapters and anime episodes to its library, with the promised end-goal of Luffy becoming the “King of the Pirates.” Even if Luffy were to find One Piece, would he keep it? Would he be the type to stop there? Or would more hijinks ensue when jealous pirates attempt to steal it? With the rich world set before us, it’s hard to imagine the wild cruise can ever really end. But, at the same time, the arcs are well written and structured, with characters that continue to grow as the story goes on. It has the strength to keep going, but it’s hard to tell when that end-horizon will ever really arrive.
- Too Many NPC’s on the Dance Floor
Names and faces are hard to remember with one person:add about 50 supporting characters and it becomes impossible. Anime that stretch their running time will litter themselves with new names and faces, and chances are that the audience won’t remember half of them. Sure, it’s a big world full of people, and these long-standing anime seek to emulate that. But they need to make sure each character is memorable in one fashion or another, lest they fall into the black hole of human memory.
Bleach is offender #1 in this scenario, with a roster of characters that is insane in length. The Soul-Society Arc opened a wormhole of new characters into the show, and only the hard-core fans can remember all their names. I have a hard time remembering names with real people, but remember faces pretty well, so my solution was just to give nicknames to the characters I didn’t remember, and that’s usually a sign to me that a show isn’t trying hard enough.
- Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back.
Progress is the life-blood of a good story. Accomplishments have to be made in order to proceed, and a lack of progress will make your show stagnate, fast. Nothing annoys an audience more than a protagonist that spins their wheels and gets nothing done.
Look no further than Inuyasha for this problem, as the show utterly drags its feet when it comes to getting the Shikon Jewel put together, defeating Naraku, and generally putting things back in order. It made progress with the toxic relationship of its main characters, but heaven forbid they actually get half of their sacred widget back.
So what does an anime need to do to survive?
Above all else, it needs to stay interesting. The plot needs to progress, the characters need to be good, and you need to keep the action coming if you want an anime to survive the test of time. Otherwise, you’ll end up in the reject pile, one of the sad memories of a series that refused to end despite multiple wishes that it would.