The Problem with Pretty Anime


Hello, this is ZabiLegacy. I write over at If you like my writing I urge you to check it out.

Over recent years I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that anime seems to be getting shorter. There were always 12 episode shows, but they seem much more prevalent. 50 episode anime was still a common site ten years ago, but it is now rare to see a series last four cours. A lot of this may have to do with the increasingly short attention span of audiences, but I’ve wanted to explore what trends are causing anime to be getting shorter.

Obviously the price of creating an anime is what is driving episode count down. The technology required to make anime is moving upwards, as is the amount of animators required to make a series. Furthermore, in the mid-2000s anime reached its peak with a US audience, driving down foreign money. Some may argue that an increase in piracy is a major factor, and considering how rampant it is in the foreign market it’s certainly hitting the bottom line, but a lot of the same people who torrent are the biggest buyers of DVDs and memorabilia. It could be an increase in the cost of hiring animators, but pay in Japan has been stable since the mid-90s.


I do have one more guess though.

Take a look at a few anime series from around 2003 and 2004. You’ll notice that in general the animation for the backgrounds was very bland, characters tended to have rather undefined features, making animating them much easier, and shows tended to go with solid block colors. Now most anime use shades of color in each block of color. As a whole this makes the animation in even most lowest common denominator shows nowadays look as good as some of the top shows of the 2000s.


But this comes at a price.

Remember Aquarion Evol, wacky mecha show from last year? One of the most striking details of the series was just how beautiful the backgrounds were. The series takes place in a futuristic Hong Kong and a futuristic Venice, and every frame is just beautiful. Also, all the mecha battles are ugly CG disgustingness. Now imagine had they taken all that money from the vivid backgrounds, and put it into making the show’s action more appealing. Pretty different picture right?


Action shows with low quality CG action is just one side effect. I’m sure many of you also remember C: Money of the Soul. It was a fun noitaminA series with a big idea behind it. It failed because the story was too big to fit into a single cour, and the most memorable aspect of the series was just how striking the character and background art was. I am not an expert on the subject, but one does have to wonder if a second cour could have been scraped together had it merely stopped itself from blowing the budget.


But, can you even not do so anymore? In an environment where every single other series puts so much manpower and cash into making sure it’s series is visually eye catching, how are you going to sell a series with a well-paced story and non CG fights if the series also happens to look like it was made in 2003? Even shows where upping the budget is nearly pointless are doing it just to be competitive. Why else would The Pet Girl of Sakurasou need to look like a work of art?


Maybe I’m seeing a pattern where none exists. Maybe it is just the end of the American anime boom drying up capital. But, there doesn’t seem to be a way that the improvement in art isn’t taking a huge toll on the budget of new anime. Beautiful animation is normally considered a good thing, but if an arms race of art quality is causing shows we love to take a hit, then isn’t it time someone re-examined just how important a show looking pretty is?



This post was written by ZabiLegacy — writer of Sekijitsu.

This entry was posted by Guest Writer.

16 thoughts on “The Problem with Pretty Anime

  1. I have to say that while good looking backgrounds add a lot to anime I much prefer detailed and well-animated character models. It’s the characters we’re there to see after all, right?

  2. It’s a visual medium, of course looking pretty is important.

    I think I understand the point you are trying to make, I apologize if this sounds rude, but I don’t see any evidence to support it.

    3D CG has enabled shows to happen that likely wouldn’t happen otherwise.

    Sakurasou was a high profile show(for JC anyway) that lasted 24 episodes, it doesn’t support your claim that being pretty is making anime shorter.

    12 – 24 episode shows have been around and been standard for a long time.(more than ten years) The only stuff that has ever typically run longer than that are either kids shows or things that are super popular and get sequels. There are exceptions here and there, but that is what they are.

    Most NotaminA shows are only one season. If you look at the list of NotaminA shows they have actually grown longer on average in the last few years than they were in the early years.

    • I’m not in complete disagreement. I was looking over trends and that is a possible analysis I put forth. It might be that the improvements in technology are what is generally responsible for what makes anime look so much nicer, however the trend is possible and I want to put it forth as an idea.

      Certainly our standards of when an anime looks like shit and when an anime looks good are growing higher year by year. And to be perfectly frank, I actually don’t think very much of the idea that CG lowers the barrier of entry to making action shows. It’s technically true, but I fear the results are less us seeing hidden gems that would never have been made and more iffy things like Unbreakable Machine Dolls getting made, and providing an opportunity for studios to lower the budget and key animation for fights. It’s MORE then we would have seen, but we’re not seeing any notable increase in the number of shows with action worth watching.

    • I will be opening up a whole new can of worms here: short anime, which is something of definite interest. Even if we say “short” though, everyone’s perspective of “short” can be a bit different. While it’s not like longer anime are non-existent, shorter anime which ran for 10-20 episodes are incredibly common. Anime longer than 30 episodes are few and far in between. If you try to compare this to the anime you watched several years back, there’s a noticeable difference – even when I randomly try to recall some older anime I watched – Law of Ueki, Kyou Kara Maoh, Hajime no Ippo, Death Note, Shaman King, Kekkaishi, GetBackers, Soul Eater, Strongest Disciple Kenichi – I could name more. In contrast, anime in more modern times seem to be shorter, mostly ending at (I like to call this “idealistic” end points) 10-20 episodes at most. If you try to think of some new anime which exceed 30 episodes, anime like space brothers, Toriko and Fairy Tail are the only ones I can think of. I think there’s also that panda cafe anime? Forgot the name, but I don’t really care about that one.. lol. Even long running shounen anime like Hitman Reborn *can* actually end, unlike The Big Three (though the three are almost at their limits now).

      Another thing about “ending” anime – while official information and database would say it ended, while in truth, the anime is sometime only going on hiatus, as in the case with Fairy Tail and Gintama. Also another example – Bakuman. Awkwardly, Bakuman is broken down into three different seasons. It’s not like there are any conclusive points in each season, some new elements of the story will be introduced and the anime will just stop there, while breaking the fourth wall and announcing that there will be a new season coming out soon. If it were several years back, I’m sure Bakuman will actually air all the episodes in one go. Lastly, there’s also anime like Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange – which for some odd reasons, are broken down into two different halves – and is also something I very subjectively and stubbornly disagree that there are actually two halves for those anime. I count the two halves of Fate/Zero as one anime, and likewise with Rinne no Lagrange, no matter what MAL tells me.

      Ending anime at a shorter span of time is getting common, though again, “end” is a very vague statement. Some perhaps are just broken into halves, while some are just on hiatus. I never did once thought about pretty anime being the catalyst for ending anime, but perhaps that’s one possibility as well. It could be also that anime studio had been recognizing the advantages to ending anime early, as by creating breaks in between, they could wait for more original materials or regather resources.

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  4. These examples are all still shonen or shoujo.(even Death Note) Shonen and shoujo getting shorter should be it’s own topic, but even then unless you are talking about the lack of new mega length shows like One Piece(which I think might be a reality at this point) I think you would need to dig pretty deep to make a convincing argument. (Panda Cafe is Jousei, but it’s a serious exception to the rest of this stuff and even for it’s own genre so I’m just ignoring it.)

    Recent(last 5 years) or current longer than two season anime include: Hunter X Hunter, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Beelzebub, Chihayafuru,(technically two seasons, but it’s a direct continuation.) Naruto, One Piece, Space Brothers, Toriko, Saint Saiya Omega, Fairy Tail, Gintama, Kingdom, Bleach, Tegami Bachi(again a break between seasons, but another direct continuation as I understand it.) and Yumeiro Patissiere. Most of those are off the top of my head and probably not a comprehensive list. Also, I’ve been told that Gifuu Doudou!! will continue on past the end of this season which would include it in this list.(not sure if this is true or not) I think there are actually several more if we look at shonen or shoujo for younger kids, but we would be digging into things most western anime fans are probably not even aware of.

    A better way to break this down would be to look at each of the studios that have made longer shows in the past and look at how frequently they made them in the past versus now. If we want to start counting the stuff that isn’t shonen or shoujo(largely light novel or visual novel adaptations) we need to look at series length as a whole and not continuous length. For anything that isn’t shonen or shoujo breaking between seasons is the norm and not something new.

    In support of your argument I think it’s very possible that Madhouse may have given up on making anything longer than 26 episodes. That said, they only have few titles longer than that to their name while I am aware of quite a few that are much shorter. We also need to keep Kaiji in mind which is much like their past long running titles only split into two parts.

    I think it would also be wise to ask the question do TV studios still want longer running anime? If you look at continuous long running shows from the past they are often(if not always) made with support from the TV studio that airs them. My understand is that most anime doesn’t work that way. Animation studios pay to have their anime on TV. It’s a very real possibility that longer running shows have more to do with TV broadcasters than anything else. If we look at it that way, the next question is how much do they want? Then the question that makes it all relevant to the topic at hand, has the amount they want changed in the past 15 years?

    With something like Bakuman it’s important not to mistake breaking that up into 3 different seasons as a new trend. Why? Because JC Staff made Bakuman, a studio which largely works with light novel or visual novel adaptations. When they do manga adaptations it still usually isn’t shonen or shoujo. It’s not surprising to see them apply their normal formula to a shonen manga I think. If you look back at their older work you will find things like UFO Baby, but then that was produced by NHK. The norm for JC Staff has been less than 2 season anime from the beginning.

    As far as the split season stuff that is planned to run for 24 episodes from day 1, we have a pretty good answer on that from the studios themselves. The break lets them play catchup and make better anime. That was the excuse UFOTable gave for F/Z and I see no reason to doubt it. There might be some ground to explore higher standards in anime pushing up the need for breaks between seasons. The planned breaking does seem like something somewhat new to me, but it could also just be that studios are more open about their plans now then they were 5 to 10 years ago. All of this does make me wonder if splitting shows has a marketing reason, but without numbers and some hardcore critical thinking to back that one up, we have little to go on.

    • I won’t deny that, aside from shows like Kyou Kara Maoh, the shows that I mentioned are mostly shounen. Back then, shounen titles were easily associated with longetivity so that does play a role I think. Though I think I can find some long non-shounen/shoujo shows if I look hard enough, but I admit I’m more familiar with the ones I mentioned^^”

      Hmm, 5 years, I think we are looking a bit too further back here. Anime like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece are a no-brainer for being the long-running shows that they are, lol. Chihayafuru technically ended, in what I call “idealistic” end periods, just like what Bakuman had done (Bakuman is in three seasons but all of them are direct contunuation too). Likewise, if it were some years ago, I’m sure Chihayafuru would rather air in one go, rather then broken down into segments.

      So you’re saying it’s better to disregard the division (one contunious show divided into half, cours, seasons, etc..) and look at them as a whole, sounds logical too. All the division had been perplexing – in MAL, it listed anime returning from hiatus as “second season”, but download websites everywhere list down the episodes accordingly from the very last number on the “first season”, so it technically still count as whole. And indeed, it isn’t something new, but it’s even more common than it was before. I certainly never heard of anime cut half in between (as
      with Fate/Zero and Rinne) and also anime all of a sudden going on hiatus.

      Hmm, indeed, though it seems they did produce anime longer than that in the past. I’m always not quite familiar with the “behind-of-scenes” of these media, but if that’s true, then that’s also an important point to consider. An article I read somewhere mentioned that it literally cost a fortune just to have their anime aired on a channel, in Japan alone.

      Hmm, I’m sure if we look hard enough, there will be one or two shows that are a rare exception to your argument, I would say it’s solid.

      Hmm, indeed. The bottom line is that, studios nowadays are more flexible with their plans – while in the past, if they had a good starting run, they would try to continue it as much as possible but now they will “end” it, rather or not it’s on break, or on hiatus, if it’s necessary.

      • I wouldn’t say to disregard the separation between seasons entirely, but in some cases we know that the studio planned to do a several season run from the start because they told us as much, take say Fate/Zero or Durrarara!! Or even Monogatari.(though that was more of a wish than a promise) I’ve been led to believe the same is true with all the split season anime I mentioned, but I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to shonen. I’ve shared most of what I know in this post in fact.

        I think it’s important to look at all the factors which is why I pointed out the big ones I’m aware. There are some important facts that simply shouldn’t be overlooked.

        Have the studios making anime with breaks between seasons ever made any anime longer than 2 seasons? UFOtable and Brains Base haven’t. I didn’t look at their entire history, but I’m not aware of a single title that is longer than that for either studio.

        Have the broadcasting stations lost interest in longer running anime and if they have why? I honestly don’t have much personal interest in most longer running shonen. This is a question someone else would need to explore.

        Anime that is sponsored by a TV broadcasting station shouldn’t be compared to anime that isn’t. Where that line should be drawn would be something to ask someone who really understands what that difference is, I don’t, I just know that there is one. It’s just that if we don’t do that we are comparing apples and oranges. Of course the oranges taste different, they aren’t apples.

        Finally, if someone really wants to become an expert on this topic they should probably investigate TV Tokyo, Pierrot and Toei Animation. Those studios alone are responsible for a large amount of the longer running TV animes that have ever been made.

        That is really as far as my knowledge on all this goes though. Shonen really isn’t my thing so I haven’t dug deeper. I’ve had this debate with friends a few times though. It’s an interesting topic, I would like to see someone really delve into the questions I’ve listed and come up with some good answers, but that person probably won’t be me. Personally i much prefer shorter TV animes, but that is another topic for another time I think. The distinction simply becomes apparent to me as most of my favorite studios never have made long running anime.

        On a non shonen note there are some longer running animes that are not shonen, but in my opinion there have never been enough for us to count them as part of some trend. Monster, Golgo 13 and apparently Kingdom is Seinen as well so that’s 3 off the top of my head in one category, but I don’t think you will find much more than that in any given genre. Shonen/Shoujo are the only categories with enough history to really be relevant to a topic like this I think.

        • Indeed, I didn’t know about Durarara though, since I remembered I marathoned it, and MAL only listed it as one. In Monogatari’s case it looks like they had more than enough budget and resources for further releases if they want to, lol. The money they used on animating must had costs a fortune, and it seems like they are still retaining the same high-quality visuals even in the new sequels.

          Actually to aid in your argument, UFOtable looks like they had more experiences in producing anime movies, OAVs and specials. They indeed produce anime TV series but rarely the 20+ types.

          And indeed, and thanks for sharing all you know regarding the topic. It certainly gives me something to think about^^”

  5. Funny that you mention Aquarion EVOL, I initially started it because the colorful designs appealed to me, but I ended up loathing the series as a whole.

    I’d rather watch a show that has 2003-ish visuals but at least has an engaging plot and characters. In fact I’d rather rewatch the original Berserk TV show 10 times in a row than sit through something that has 10 episodes and delivers no character development or plot. Honestly I’ve almost completely lost interest in anime these days and switched to VNs, which are sufficiently long and can explore characters and themes in greater detail.

    • I wouldn’t say that modern anime doesn’t have engaging plots or characters. Yeah, while losing episodes does harm that sort of thing, I honestly don’t think that is a valid critique of the medium as it stands. Also, while this site seems pretty VN friendly so I’m not going to be too mean, I have difficulties excepting the premise that the story telling in the VIsual Novel genre has surpassed anime in terms of themes and characters, considering the fact that years later it is still treated more as a porn delivery service then anything else.

  6. Admittedly I was in grumpy mode upon posting that comment, but I didn’t say modern anime couldn’t have engaging plots at all, even if my words could be interpreted that way. I did enjoy stuff like Fate/zero, after all. But in general what I was trying to say is that there’s often -not always- more potential for detailed characterization in a VN. Of course, the VN scene has its fair share of shallow moe stuff as well, so yeah, it’s far from perfect, but nothing is.

    Also, if you have any newer anime recommendations, I’d be very much interested in a couple.

  7. I think with technological advancements, I think it’s a lot easier to make good looking shows as most animation is done on the computer. I agree that pretty animation takes a big budget to maintain the quality. One of these instances is Little Busters as the animation quality of the first season was all over the place while the sequel, it looks considerably better.

    On the other hand, I also wonder about the quality of shows that are continuous since it takes a lot of money to create an episode for each week. For instance, the Pokemon Anime has suffered from so-so anime quality for a long time (especially for the fact that it remained in a 4:3 aspect ratio until Best Wishes, when it transitioned to 16:9). Not only that, the CGI from the last time I watched it looked terrible. Ignoring the fact that these shows are geared towards children, most ongoing shounen anime probably won’t look good compared to shows that are only given 12-24 episodes. It’s my assumption though.

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