June 05, 2024

Anime reassessed (pacing matters)

I let my Netflix, Crunchyroll, and HIDIVE subscriptions expire earlier this year and spent the last six months mostly watching live-action Jdrama on Rakuten Viki, Tubi, and Jme TV.

And the result of this little experiment? Far and away, anime remains my preferred medium for scripted entertainment.

It's not just me.

As Miles Atherton reports on Anime News Network, according to recent data released by Netflix, in terms of total hours viewed, anime not only overperforms in its category overall but makes up almost 80 percent of all Japanese language content viewed.

Starting with deep wells of proven source material, the inherent constraints of anime production sufficiently discipline the process (no anime studio has the resources to crank out a $200 million CGI flop) so that when everything comes together, a watchable work of art is the result on a reasonably regular basis.

Good stories told well.

To start with, this isn't about production values. HD video technology has leveled the playing field in that regard. Rather, the underlying problems come down to how the stories are structured, paced, and told.

Many hour-long Jdrama episodes should be thirty minutes shorter. (So should most movies.) I usually skip anime compilation films but doing the opposite works better. Editing Demon Slayer: Mugen Train into seven episodes improved on the movie. When it comes to single arc stories, a runtime longer than that just drags everything out.

A half-hour live-action show like Kamen Rider: Zero-One is thirty episodes too long. Past a certain point, filling the available time results in mindless repetition. I made it to the end of Kamen Rider: Kuuga solely on the strength of Joe Odagiri's performance and a supporting cast that created a great Scooby Gang.

Incidentally, comparing Kamen Rider: Kuuga (2001) and Kamen Rider: Zero-One (2020) illustrates how extraordinarily far budget CGI has progressed in the past two decades.

Yet despite the superior production values of the latter, the acting and dialogue elevate the former, even with its near-fatal plot holes and running a full two seasons (that's one season too many).

When Hollywood is running on all cylinders, it gets episodic television exactly right, with standalone episodes loosely linked by season-long dramatic arcs running in the background. So Fuyuhiko Takahori has the cause and effect backwards. The common point of failure is stretching a single story over more episodes than are required to tell it.

There are writers who have mastered the formula. 99.9 Criminal Lawyer and Unnatural both run standalone episodes against background narrative arcs that pay off reasonably well. Three Star Bar in Nishi Ogikubo tells a complete story in six half-hour standalone episodes and completes a satisfying series-long arc.

But more often than not, you feel like you're stuck on a hamster wheel, spinning around and around and going nowhere. Anime is not immune to the problem. Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen spend too long on the hamster wheel (a rut the battle shonen genre easily falls into) while Frieren jumps off before overstaying its welcome.

This is why I prefer the slice-of-life genre. Challenges are taken on episode by episode, with an emphasis on the character arcs. In Komi Can't Communicate, Komi struggling toward her goal and Tadano simply being a genuinely good person (harder to depict than it sounds) make the story compelling.

Likewise, in the plot-heavy My Happy Marriage (Cinderella in early 20th century Japan), I find myself more interested in Miyo's self-actualization (that tired term actually applies here) than the tangled web of political machinations.

Interesting characters create interesting stories, not the other way around. In Jdrama romances especially, the realization slowly dawns that, aside from the sturm und drang of the romance itself, these are really boring people. That and a smattering of common sense would fix most of their issues.

Both the abstract nature of anime as an artistic medium and the physical constraints of the production process make it easier to align the story to the viewing time in ways that are both more concrete and rewarding to the viewer.

Related posts

Anime reassessed (pacing matters)
Anime reassessed (culture matters)
Anime reassessed (numbers matter)

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# posted by Blogger Katherine Woodbury
6/06/2024 9:26 AM   
I completely agree about most live-action benefiting from being shorter: American, British...everything! I would vote that many Viki series be about 5-6 (out of 12-14) episodes shorter. That's 5-6 hours less!

There are good live-action shows/movies out there. But they seem harder to find or at least to weed out, separating the wheat from the tares.

Machida Keita stars in the live-action of Cherry Magic (good live-action series, good live-action movie, and good anime) so maybe he is one of those actors who makes good choices re: live-action that actually tells a story with decent pacing.