Length of Anime VS Length of Manga

Even though I like to gaze upon anime and manga with an artistic and pretentious eye, one has to remember that this stuff is first and foremost is a business venture for some exec out there, and as a result these works get twisted to varying degrees to make them more marketable. One of the  ways in which these works get twisted is in their length. Anime length is typically restricted to episode counts that are multiples of 13, and manga length strives on reader surveys and runs as long as it remains popular. Incidentally, this is why I don’t read manga that often, since too much of it is just so goddamn long.

Length is critical is to a story. Besides it being the factor that determines for how long you sit in front any given anime or flip through any given manga for, it helps set the pace for the story. Sometimes the pace is perfect for the amount of volumes/episodes a story runs, and sometimes it isn’t. What it all comes down to is that some story writers have very clear idea of how much time they have to cram stuff in, and others have no idea when they’ll be cut. This stringent control of length obviously effects the quality of the storytelling, regardless of whether or not the story is “good” or not.

For those who don’t know, anime runtime is typically bought in packages of 12 or 13 episodes known as cours. While this may not be as transparent in older, longer running shows (probably because the system was different back then) this system became very apparent in the 90s with shows typically running for 26 episodes, and now with shows typically running for 13. This can of course be really restrictive on writers if they, for instance, have a story better suited for 17 episodes, but have 26 episodes to work with; or have a story best suited for 17 episodes again, but this time they only have 13 episodes. Obviously the former situation is better, but such restrictions often result in episodes made purely to fill up time. If these are good, that’s all fine and dandy, but whether they’re bad or good still effects the pace at which the show moves. As for the latter situation, what often comes about are stories in which things aren’t adequately explained and the way in which they end oftentimes makes little sense.

Naturally, if one is a skillful writer it’s not an especially tall order to write a story meant to fit nicely into a set amount of time (I think Sunrise just does this by making up shit episode by episode and hoping it all makes sense.) but it’s not an easy thing to do. There’s also often times pressure from sponsors to keep things open-ended for a sequel, or to change certain plot points due to marketing issues. What seems to be the most prominent pattern coming around due to these imposed limits (and of course other things like the shifting of audiences’ tastes) is we get shows that focus more on characters and less on story, resulting in a show which is a set of 13 individual stories in which things are started and resolved in the space of each episode. Sometimes there will be a push for drama near the end in attempt to punctuate the series. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way it’s the easiest way to deal with things.

I can’t write as much on manga, since I don’t read it as much, but what I’ve noticed with most popular manga (ie shounen, shoujo) is that until a certain defined point there will be a nice, somewhat thought out story, but after that point things will meander, or further story arcs will simply not be as good. This is obviously a result of writers not knowing when they’ll be cut off, and when they do get cut off the ending is either abrupt or non existent. Like with anime, because of this and other reasons stories have shifted to be more character centric rather than story centric, so the way in which things end is less of an issue. However, manga does tend to run on for too long for my tastes, and the material invariably becomes stale.

Some anime have found ways around the cour system by telling part of the story within the 12-epsiode TV run, then finishing the rest with OVAs, and I can say with some certainty that there are a few manga titles that can end whenever they please. But besides that, I think anime and manga would really benefit if their run-times weren’t so strictly controlled. Often times it’s not too much of an issue, but there are a good amount of a titles out there in which length has had a negative effect on things. I dream of a day when such limits are lifted, but that will of course never happen.

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8 Responses to Length of Anime VS Length of Manga

  1. omo says:

    The worse case of these is when someone produces a show that fits in the allotted airing schedule perfectly, and the fans love it.

    “What do you mean I need to now make 26 more episodes?! I used up all my good ideas in the first series!”

    And that is how we get to Gundam Seed Destiny.

    You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. There are dozens of things like that in the anime industry which sinks morale, lowers production value, and cuts salary averages.

    As to manga, Bakuman provides a fairly convincing if simple take on that end of the problem. You reading it man?

  2. Misuzu says:

    I never thought about it quite like that.( ‘д‘)

  3. Likewise says:

    I believe Saki handled this most gracefully by making an 19-episode series and stuffing the remaining 6 episodes with a small tournament of 3 episodes and swimsuit service and yukata service and classic onsen service. I do not mind that at all.

  4. the monster says:

    darker than black season 2 should’ve been 26 episodes… D: there was obviously more to the story

    and yeah, i don’t watch most series over 26 episodes these days with the exception of hayate and even that was a bit too much (i can say the same for powering through the entire buffy + angel series (not animu)).

    12-13 is best. power through it in less than a week. with 24-26 episodes, i’d expect either a grand plot or a few decent to very good fillers. speaking of fillers, that latest railgun after the fetus arc… o lawd

  5. JANAiBlog says:

    This is actually the reason why I many times will prefer a manga over an anime. Yes, manga series do run long, but you can also progress through a manga much quicker than an anime. It takes less time to read a manga chapter than it does to watch an anime episode. Essentially, you can cover more material in less time by reading manga.

    There are just way too many anime series out there that have potential to be great but are ruined by horrible pacing, usually due to the fact that the manga was comparatively shorter in length than the anime. The same applies to some visual novel to anime adaptations.

  6. Omi says:

    Of course, sometimes you have studios like Shaft. Or to be more accurate, people like Shinbo, who say, “We have a 15 episode show on our hands. Fuck the 12 episode limit, we’ll release the last 3 online!”

    Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for the last two episodes…

  7. wah says:

    I should read Bakuman, but I’m scared of endless Shounen Jump things.

    Saki was one of those weird exceptions where the manga-ka worked very close with the anime staff. Form what I hear, Saki anime turned out better paced than the manga because in the manga the Koromo match lasts for four volumes or something dumb like that.

    That is true, but I read slow D:

    Yeah, thats what I addressed at the end with studios covering some of the story on TV, then doing the rest in direct-to-video releases.

  8. 2DT says:

    Interestingly enough, if what you say is true, anime’s simply becoming more and more like American television.