I was looking back through my anime list adding episode counts (yes, yes, I’m a riot at parties. I know.) I realized that roughly 2/5 of my entire anime watching hobby was consumed by series that broke 100 episodes. Naruto Shippuden (@350), Bleach (@301), Dragon Ball Z + GT (291+64), Naruto (220), Inuyasha (167), Dragonball (153), Zatch Bell (150), One Piece (@150) Yuyu Hakusho (112), Slayers series (104). An astounding amount of episodes to be sure. That’s roughly 83 24-episode series or 167 12-episode series. When I think about it that way, it’s an odd sort of feeling, though, somewhere in between regret and nostalgia. I can’t help but think, “how many new worlds and new ideas did I not get to explore because I was wading through those?”
It’s not to say that the series themselves are necessarily bad. At the time, I absolutely loved them. Even now, I don’t exactly regret watching them because when I watched them, they seemed absolutely amazing. It’s just in retrospect, that was a huge time investment. I can’t say for sure, but part of the allure of these big-name long series seems to be that they don’t end. The characters you’ve gotten to know have new adventures and challenges and have fun in different ways. But for me now, that’s the problem. It feels more like a sitcom rather than the anime I fell in love with. They keep going forward on the weight of their own momentum, becoming essentially formulaic in execution.
I can actually remember my breaking point – the point where my attitude towards those anime irrevocably became tainted. It was Bleach that did it. I was fine with the random Bount Arc.. and I think there was another random filler arc somewhere after that. But right in the middle of the action… right where things got really, really good, it jarringly substituted yet another filler arc. I was so confused, thinking I had skipped an entire season. “Where was the end of that awesome arc?,” I angrily thought as I searched in vain. In a rare jaunt onto forums, I finally learned the truth – the manga had run out and the anime was just treading water until it caught up. That was the beginning of the end for me. I stuck with it a while longer, but I ultimately couldn’t deal with it. That also marks the end of when I watched an anime before it was done airing.
“But that’s not like Fairy Tail or Gintama or Hunter x Hunter!” True. But to keep an anime that long, there has to be filler. Part of what makes those big long series captivating is that you don’t really remember the filler. “That’s okay” some have told me, “just watch the really good parts.” But I couldn’t do that – it’s like taking something out of context. Especially for those large anime, many scenes are really good because you’ve been with those characters for dozens upon dozens of episodes. You’ve spent 2 or 3 or 4 seasons with a character, only for them to die. That adds to the impact and strengthens the scene far beyond how the scene would be if you just saw a clip on Youtube or just watched the “highlights.”
When I tried to evaluate those series, I hit a problem – how many episodes could I consider really good? And I’m not talking about pieces of episodes, I mean whole episodes. I’m really not sure. When I thought about Naruto I wildly guessed that 50% was really good. But that’s 110 episodes – “No way,” I thought. To me, maybe 30%, 66 episodes, sounded about right (I’m being somewhat speculative… memory is fuzzy after all). Yuyu Hakusho? Maybe half? Sure, there were some funny things and entertaining things in those anime, but I can’t really say that they were resoundingly strong throughout. No way I could recommend something like that to people I knew.That’s when a realization struck me. I wouldn’t rate a 12-episode series very highly if 50% of it were really good, but the rest was weaker. That would mean that 12 episodes of a 24 episode series weren’t “up to snuff.”
But not all of those episodes were merely not as good, there was a ton of filler throughout. No way I’d tolerate that kind of filler in a shorter series. It’s not to say I’m anti-filler. Of course you regularly have fluff. But they’re often 1 or 2 episodes per 12 – hovering around 10-16%. Actually, recently watching Full Metal Panic, I noticed they had 1 episode of filler per 3 or 4 episodes of plot – roughly 25%. And that was probably what I’d consider toeing the line of acceptable filler. But that’s just it, “fluff” varies so much in the larger anime. Sometimes it’s an entire filler season, sometimes it’s a filler story arc, sometimes it’s a filler plot arc. At those episode counts, things get magnified in scale. Even if we assume Naruto was at 25% filler, that means it’s 55 episodes of fluff. One Piece, now at 708 episodes, would have 177 episodes of filler. When I began to think about filler in those terms, I couldn’t really convince myself to start another long series.
With that said, all it means is I’m done with them. I wouldn’t really recommend someone watch those anime, but at the same time I wouldn’t warn them away. Now, I prefer more succinct stories that have a definite end (ambiguous endings are okay too). I want to see new worlds and concepts and ideas each time I start a new series. Series that span 100+ episodes were part of my formative years of anime-watching, but I’ve moved on. I’m looking towards new shows and new possibilities. Still, I’ll never forget those long anime. I’ve learned some valuable lessons from them that I still carry with me. For example, never, never watch long series on Toonami. Part of my anime “trauma” comes from having to re-watch entire seasons of reruns of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z there… the horror…the horror…