As I mentioned when talking about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood times have changed since I started watching anime. When I started watching anime the general philosophy was there were three approaches to adapting long-running manga or novel series. The first approach was to adapt a small part of the series to give the viewers a taste of the title and then hope that they go and read the original material. This was the tactics behind so many OVAs and movies but it was hardly unheard of with TV series. The second was to stall for time waiting for more material with filler arcs. Mega-popular shonen fighting series got this all the time. The problem with this approach was filler is often some of the most reviled material in all of anime. But without a doubt, the most hated material comes from the third approach: anime original ending. When a series run out of material to adapt the anime studio comes up with their own ending. If you are relatively new to anime fandom it is actually a bit hard to fully understand how much these endings were often hated.
Thankfully a fourth option is actually far more common today. In fact, it is so common that the other three are now the exception and not the rule. Most series adapting an ongoing series will just go on hiatus until enough new material has come out for them to do a new season. For the longest time, I could remember this being an option many fans wished could be the way things were done but often wondered why it was not the case. It seemed like the best of both worlds. You avoid the often quite terrible anime original material while keeping a show alive in a relatively painless fashion. You sometimes have to wait on a cliff hanger season finale but it is better than waiting in hopes that a manga MIGHT get licensed. Everyone wins.
But oddly enough One Punch Man and Attack on Titan have actually opened my eyes to some major downsides to this option. It is almost like there was a reason they might have avoided this method in the past.
If this were a popular blog I know I would get this argument in the comments but I will cut this off at the pass even if it is unlikely to come up. I’m not saying that no one foresaw these hiccups. I’m sure that many a person predicted these difficulties in old debates about what to do with currently running series. I’m not doubting some of our readers are smart cookies that can see potential pitfalls with some common sense. I’m discussing what problems have started to occur when the rubber actually hits the road. I’m not here to confirm or deny how many industry pundits were Nostradamus or Cassandra. I’m looking at that fallout of this new system.
So One Punch Man Season Two and Attack on Titan Season Three show the two biggest problems with shows going on hiatus. They both stem from the major problem of what happens if the original team that worked on the anime is no longer available when new material is ready. Both shows are currently suffering from this problem they just suffer from it in completely opposite ways.
The first example is Attack on Titan Season Two and Three. When Attack on Titan first came out it was the show everyone was talking about. It was the first show that had any sort of mainstream English success in a while and it was a titan of fandom. Every manga website, blog, podcast, or video series was either talking about it or avoiding talking about it. It was breaking all sorts of sales and viewership records. Merchandise, cosplayers, and spin-offs were everywhere. And you knew it was popular when any site that was even vaguely geeky was talking about it and many that were even outside of the geek sphere of influence. And then began the wait for season two.
The success of Attack on Titan made Wit Studio extremely popular and they started filling up their schedule. This very full dance card meant that they could not easily get back to Attack on Titan. At first, Kodansha was happy to wait. The original Wit Studio knocked the anime out of the park and changing horses midstream could be very risky. Then several years went by. The attack on Titan fandom went from supernova hotness to a barely burning campfire mostly made of embers. Then all the stars aligned and Attack on Titan season two came out with mostly the same team. And then the problem with the wait was VERY apparent.
According to this video, the viewership of season two was only a third of what season one had. They did not cite any source for this number so I can’t guarantee its accuracy but if they are a bit off it still feels so very real. The thunderous conversation around Attack on Titan has died off to a simple whisper. Attack on Titan rarely breaks into the top 5 most popular shows on Crunchyroll and never stays as long as it used to. The constant conversation about the show has mostly slowed down to the occasional mention. And the most important thing is the fandom outside of hardcore anime fans has all but vanished. Attack on Titan went from a superstar to a background extra in the media landscape. While the quality has remained top notch the wait killed the fandom.
One Punch Man Season Two shows what happen when a publisher just can’t wait for the original team to get back together. One Punch Man was in the same situation as Attack on Titan. It was the cock of the walk that everyone inside and outside of fandom was talking about. It also went on a fairly long break where the fans were getting worried about when they were going to get more Saitama. When the show’s sister series Mob Psycho 100 got two seasons before the second season of One Punch Man you could feel an uncomfortable amount of unease. So Shueisha possibly seeing what happened to Attack on Titan decided that more One Punch Man was better than no One Punch Man. So they switched from Madhouse to J.C. Staff with a completely different staff. If you listen to any anime pundits who are not the Reverse Thieves you know there are FEELINGS about this.
Having watched some One Punch Man Season Two it is OK. Very mediocre. It is not really bad in any way just … disappointing. One Punch Man Season One was this visual feast of shockingly fluid animation and superb direction. Every other scene just knocks your socks off. Everything is One Punch Man Season Two in comparison is unremarkable. One Punch Man Season Two would seem boringly workman if the first season did not exist but since the first season is so awe-inspiring the second season really suffers.
The thing is apparently One Punch Man Season Two is doing OK. Since they did not wait too long like Attack on Titan the fandom seems to have still come out for more One Punch Man even if the animation is far inferior. The far smaller academic and technical parts of fandom are highly and vocally disappointed but most of the other fans seem to be having fun if they do occasionally notice that everything is not as good as it was before. The real question is how much of will the drop in quality does for the overall fandom in general.
Don’t get me wrong. As much as I have pointed out the flaws in this new way of handling long-running series you have to remember how bad it used to be. If anything this is probably the least broken of all the methods. If you can retain a good amount of the original team from season to season you generally get a complete series animated in the best possible way. You avoid weird, rushed, or lazy original material and sometimes even get a nice break period to prevent burn out. I would argue this might actually have helped series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and My Hero Academia be as popular as they are now. I will admit without any metrics that are more speculation than fact but I think a strong case could be made for the current production model is a part of their success.
The problems start occurring when you either can’t get the band back together or the wait for the original team is too long. I prefer when they wait for the best results like with Attack on Titan but the viewership numbers make the One Punch Man rote far more attractive to anyone on the business end. So I’m not asking for anyone for another disappointing Claymore anime ending or the nine circles of hell that was the Naruto filler. Those are some dark times never worth revisiting. I just wish to remind everyone that at times there might be a reason studios and publishers avoided going on hiatus and reasons why they might not do it in the future.