So as I mentioned with Code Geass 2, when you try to take a good idea and drag it out to cover four full seasons (52 episodes), you may have lots of time to layer on the intrigue and tragedy, but you have just as much time to run yourself off into a ditch trying to keep things going. Honestly, there are precious few series that can sustain any kind of real momentum through even 26 episodes.
This ties into a thought I’d had on why I don’t like US TV shows for the most part, and do like anime ones. (And no, not just because I’m an anime fan.) To preface, I’m generally a fan of well-constructed stories that are going somewhere. There are exceptions, but the more tightly-built the better, in my mind.
The thing is, standard US-style TV shows are doomed to fail. Let’s say you start out with a great idea, and one that’s going somewhere. Basically one of two things can happen:
- The series gets cancelled prematurely, and the viewer is horribly frustrated. Example: Firefly.
- The series is popular enough that they keep making it until it eventually jumps the shark, at which point even fans lose interest and it gets cancelled. The X-files comes to mind.
So basically you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Shows are literally doomed to failure—because of the way the system works, they will be kept on the air until they start to suck, however long that takes. If they’re not, then almost by definition they were ended prematurely, and most likely with unfinished business.
The few exceptions are shallow sitcoms (though even those can get somewhat impenetrable to non-fans after a while), and inherently open-ended ideas (detective shows are a good example, since they are almost by nature episodic and the stories self-contained).
I’m not saying that there aren’t good long-running series, and there are of course the newer high-budget cable series that break the mold somewhat, but the system just isn’t designed to allow for a tight story with a beginning, middle, end, and a minimum of filler. If you try, you’re doomed to fail, and if you don’t, you’re left with something treading water from a broader narrative perspective and/or heading for soap-opera-syndrome of exponential plot layers.
Contrast this with the way TV anime is usually produced: You get the series signed on for a single, 13-episode season that you know will always be shown in order (Japanese TV just doesn’t do reruns the way the US networks do). There is no syndication as the US knows it to cash in on after the series is done. There is the potential for a sequel, but it’s a sequel, not another season. If you’re lucky and have the material, you might even get two seasons financed, but anything longer than that is exceedingly rare outside of the shounen-mill (and Rumiko Takahashi,who is unabashedly in the “treading water” camp).
This is a fundamental advantage that anime TV series have, and the main reason I’m a whole lot more likely to commit to watching one than a US TV series that will either be cancelled early or will drag on so long I’ll eventually lose interest in it. And it’s why I’m extremely wary of any anime series that’s more than a couple seasons long.