19

Most likely, the actual seasons are not a cause for the television broadcasting schedule in Japan. Furthermore, the seasons themselves don't much align to actual seasons, with "Spring 2015" ending in late June.

It seems strange to me that series air in such regular intervals and with such consistent lengths (only deviating by perhaps 2 episodes from what I've seen).

Furthermore, I'm no expert on western television, but it seems to me that western shows don't adhere to such a rigid schedule.

Notably, it seems that season lengths have changed in anime over the years, too. For instance, the original season of Naruto had 35 episodes, which is something I don't think would happen these days. Is there a specific reason for this schedule? (cultural or otherwise)

21

It is for financial reasons.

In the past, many series had longer seasons: 24, 26 or 28 episodes for a season was common in the 90s (Meitantei Conan's first season was 28 episodes). Series that were pretty guaranteed to be popular enough to keep up selling a lot of toys to kids had longer seasons (Sailor Moon's first season had 46 episodes). Gag series from 4-koma comics are more likely to have a long series length (Nintama Rantarou's first season had 47 episodes and Chibi Maruko-chan's first season alone was a whopping 142 episodes). In the past, more people were loyal to their favorite series and collected the merchandise carefully, whereas Japanese children now are quick to switch their fads (from Pokemon to Youkai Watch, for example), so investing a lot into a series that'll get discarded next year is not financially-sound.

12- or 13-episode series started to appear in the late 90s as a way to animate and broadcast something (adapting a manga or video game, or an original series) that did not have a big enough fan base to sustain financing a full-length series (of course, this was in the era when everything was still drawn by hand). Previously, those sort of anime only received a one-shot OAV or a brief OAV series (for example, Koko ha Greenwood or Tokimeki Memorial).

Even though anime is mostly animated outside of Japan and by computer, lowering production costs, the industry is able to further expand the genres and number of titles produced by switching to a lot of shorter series over a smaller number of long-running ones. To have a long run, a series needs to keep viewers coming back (the sort of plot that can go on and on, like Inu Yasha) and sell merchandise well. Many genres of manga do not lend themselves to those epic series, so studios are creating shorter series that:

  • Can get something animated which in previous generations of anime production would never have had a chance to get animated at all because it's more niche.
  • They can make a modest amount of money off of it if it does well (and give it another season), or they can chalk it up to not too drastic of a loss if it doesn't do well and quickly move on to the next one.
  • Provide a nice, tight story arc that has closure at the end (though when they are not sure up to nearly the last minute whether they will get the green-light for another season, the ending can still fizzle).

Although the main reason is financial, a series where the very limited total number of episodes available to work within is known to the staff from the start can allow the writers to craft the storyline to suit the length with little to no filler, which offers a different sort of project than Rurouni Kenshin or HUNTER x HUNTER where you don't entirely know where it's going and how many episodes it will need to get there.

I'm not sure what you mean by "the seasons themselves don't much align to actual seasons, with 'Spring 2015' ending in late June." Japanese culture is very specific on when seasons take place, what is associated with that season, what to do during each season, what day of the year to switch from spring/summer school uniform to fall/winter school uniform and vice versa (called koromogae: see 2.07 here), what to eat in which season, etc. The seasons coincide with the Japanese academic year, so that the sakura (cherry blossom) trees are blooming in most of the country during graduation ceremony in late March and during the first day of school (on April 1st). This is a primary reason why, although Tokyo University has switched to the Western academic year, most schools in Japan strongly do not want to. Anime is usually keen to let the viewer clearly know what season it is in the story, and try to coincide this with the air date of the episode (New Year's Day, St. Valentine's Day, sakura blooming, the sound of cicadas in summer, mosquito repellent, summer festivals, ishi yaki imo (stone-baked sweet potatoes) in autumn, fall leaves, snow, etc.).

  • 1
    Awesome explanation! My note on the seasons was just that it seems to me like the end of June is actually pretty well into summer from my perspective (but that might just be a bit subjective) – anonymous Jun 16 '15 at 3:10
  • @Sakurai Tomoko, nice formatting edit, thank you! – seijitsu Jun 16 '15 at 4:40
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    @moegamisama, the 1st semester of the Japanese school year runs until mid-July and then universities have about 2 1/2 months of summer vacation (the 2nd semester starts October 1st), compared to about 1 month of summer vacation for elementary through high school students (dates differ slightly by school, some are in session in late July). June is somewhat in the middle of the first semester, and most of Japan has its tsuyu (rainy season) during June, so people associate June with umbrellas & hydrangeas (seen in many anime). – seijitsu Jun 16 '15 at 6:49
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    @moegamisama Believe it or not, summer actually begins in late June! Summer officially begins on the longest day of the year, the "summer solstice", which is June 21 (give or take a day) in the Northern Hemisphere. Likewise, winter starts on its own solstice, in late December. So even if you grew up thinking of, say, March as spring, most of it is actually in winter. Likewise for the other seasons. (Spring and fall have "equinoxes" rather than solstices, by the way.) – Shay Guy Jun 16 '15 at 16:58
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    @ShayGuy Consider that another name for summer solstice is midsummer that's a bit of a weak argument. To quote wiki "From an astronomical view, the equinoxes and solstices would be the middle of the respective seasons, but a variable seasonal lag means that the meteorological start of the season, which is based on average temperature patterns, occurs several weeks later than the start of the astronomical season." So no matter how you turn it, be it astronomically or culturally: summer starts somewhere around the beginning of June. And even meteorologically your claim does not hold up: (cont.) – David Mulder Jun 16 '15 at 18:18
1

From the point of view of a consumer who isn't watching things as they air, but instead buying box sets or watching them on Crunchyroll or similar, my experience is that 12ish episodes is about ideal.

e.g. as much as I liked the first few seasons of the (original) Sailor Moon anime, they dragged out a lot. And being so large, the thought of watching them again (especially if it means purchasing box sets) feels very daunting, and I am unlikely to do so.

Whereas, for example, the 12 episodes Puella Magi Madoka Magica was long enough to be able to tell a story in satisfying depth, but short enough that it feels like the story keeps moving along.

Of course, I'm just speculating that this is something producers care a lot about, but I'd be surprised if they didn't care at all.

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    The industry is targeted at Japanese viewers, who fall into 2 categories: 1) otaku, who buy box sets & figures but are a minority of the population, 2) families who are casual TV viewers (they don’t pick fave characters) who buy the toys. (Most Japanese people don't watch anime at all.) The number who watch anime on NicoNico Douga (Japan's equivalent to hulu or CrunchyRoll) is a very small % since the Japanese are largely web-browser illiterate (they use internet on smartphones). If you can sell merch to casual viewers you make more money; short series are more for non-mainstream demographics. – seijitsu Jun 16 '15 at 7:03

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