I Love Episodic Anime

If there is one thing that bothers me about modern anime fandom, it’s people’s lack of understanding or dislike of episodic or mini arc storytelling. To me, it’s one of the most under rated forms of storytelling there is. I don’t think some people appreciate how much freedom it gives anime and what it can do for the character that are involved in them and the world/universe that a series is centered around. Even if a show is centered around one character moving from place to place to solve a problem or explore a place’s philosophy like Mushishi and Kino’s Journey (2003), there is so much you can do with the format to make it feel exciting and fresh. Many anime and source material (when they have them) with this format are famous and on going for a reason. I’m not dissing on longer arcs, because some of my favorite anime have these long sweeping arcs that lost through out a series’ entire run. Especially slow ones that take the take to flesh out everything in that character’s universe. Still, I think there is something wrong with a show being put on train tracks sometimes. It can limit a lot of creativity in a show’s universe, which can be disappointing.

More Focused Explanation

What is it about episodic story telling that speaks to me you might ask? I did touch on this with my introduction paragraph, but I don’t think that was enough. To push this a little further, an episodic series allows its characters to be put into different locations and react to different situations every time we see them. By doing this, we get to know these characters more. Based on what a character is presented to do, we can get a deeper sense of a character’s ideology, how they deal with loss and frustration, or what kind of sense of humor they have. Sometimes, the episode is centered around someone’s home town and you can get to know their family and a little of their backstory as well. Also, some characters that are usually in the background of a series and just have a few sentences each important episode can have one dedicated to them that fleshes them out more. A fantasy adventure series or any other series with a solid plot that only gets focused on once a while like Cowboy Bebop, Stand Alone Complex, and Moriboto, have tons of episodes centered around episodic storytelling. Considering that characters and world building are the two things that I look for in media in general, that’s why episodic story telling is my favorite form of storytelling.

Some Examples

To explain myself further, I am going to use two series that have come out recently and have used both story forms to push my point forward a bit more. Those series being Little Witch Academia and Violet Evergarden. LWA’s first half is full of zany, episodic adventures with a large part of it’s cast which gave a more focused arc in the second half. Violet Evargarden is a little different, because it was plot a plot sandwich. It had a more focused story in the beginning and end of the anime with episodic stories told in between all of those. In each of those anime series, I preferred their episodic focused set of episodes.

Little Witch Academia had our protagonist crew and friends talk to dragons that can mess around with stock markets and even had some ballroom shenanigans that moved around the politics and under lying themes that the show was trying to convey. Yes, magical/technology/artist commentary were subtle. What annoyed me about the show’s second half was the fact that the theme was put into forefront, so it beat our heads with it. I mean come on, a character was introduced who is literally this theme in a hand basket. Also, a lot of characters that went on adventures in the first half were no longer important. We were in arc land now. The rail road tracks came out and those who weren’t apart of the ride were left in the train’s wake. Such a disappointing end to a fun series and truly magical series.

No, I can’t exactly call Violet Evergarden’s non-episodic stuff bad. Oh no, not at all. We got to know where Violet came from during them and the later portion shows how much Violet has grown on a personal level. It’s just that all her development came from those episodic stories. By going through the many experiences of others emotional journeys, she had a large emotional exploration with them. She was no longer a doll except by job description. All the arc-based story telling at the end did was showing other characters how she changed. Things, like I said, we already knew. The emotional weight isn’t as strong as it was, it’s just reaffirmed instead. Not a bad thing, but not what I would prefer either.

If we want to talk about an even more recent example, Kakuriyo is airing this season and it’s episodic. Now, I am not going to say that there is anything particularly special about the series. The characters are passably interesting, and the world is definitely a thing that exists. I just want to say right here that if this show wasn’t episodic in nature with the smallest of plot elements tying everything together, I most likely wouldn’t be watching it. The show centers around Aoi’s episodic adventures of setting up an eatery, interacting with interesting sorts of cute boys and fun female characters of various demon races, and sometimes going some place with her possible ogre husband and seeing how some parts of a world work. I don’t think it does any of those in a strong manner, besides going on dates with her maybe husband, but it’s still there. With the relaxed sort of mood, the show is always in and seeing what adventures Aoi is going into next. There is something addictive about it.

Arc Talk

Remember when I said earlier that some of my favorite series have long running arcs? It’s true. Many series from Gundam franchise, the original adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, HunterXHunter, and series like Nana are all series with long arcs. Notice the key term here, long. I honestly don’t think that your typical one cour seasonal anime have the best use of arcs, because those shows can either focus on a small cast of characters and use clichés for the rest of the cast or focus on a large cast of characters and have the story barely progress at all. Long and slow arcs not only make a feel a series feel completely realistic. They have enough room and time to not only develop the main cast of characters but also have a well-developed side cast while also traversing complex political ramifications and action scenes if you have a series that has them. You can’t have a long space opera or shonen series without long arcs. You can’t have a realistic drama like Space Brothers (I think, because I haven’t watched it yet) or Nana without long arcs. Short arcs don’t work for that kind of storytelling. Not saying they can’t make a good one cour arc series, because there are plenty of those, but they aren’t as good as they could be.

If you want an example of what I am talking, let’s talk about Legend of the Galactic Heroes (2018) vs the original series. Before anything, both series are very good for what they want to accomplish. I like the new version a lot. I never expected it to be as good as it is, but I think it’s well put together, beautiful, and written very well. I think it’s great to have another solid space opera to watch every week alongside Yamato 2202 for now. Still, there some differences between the original series and this 2018 edition. This new series does only a good job of balancing some character development alongside a small cast, storylines warfare, and economic/political situations of the war is going on. The original series is a little slower, so it’s developed it’s cast better over time. The battle of Iserlohn took the original series three episodes, while it took the newer series one episode’s length of time. I also think that the newer series is skipping over a lot of details from the empire’s point of view, because the focus is on the Free Planets alliance. The new series’ limited run time means that it can’t go as in-depth with its themes without costs. Not that this is a bad thing, but I prefer one over another.

Conclusion

I think that I have said everything that I could possibly say. I did skip over filler episodes in longer anime series, but there doesn’t seem to be much to talk about there. Like everything else, episodic story telling is far from perfect, because there have been some not so great series that have used it. Still, it makes a lot more sense to me from a seasonal and short anime story telling perspective given how long anime the typical anime runs these days. This is my type point of view though. Please don’t take this as me forcing my opinions on any of you. I hope I explained how I think and feel well enough.

35 Comments Add yours

  1. I could’t agree more. I’m a huge fan of episodic anime. I always love to see either once specific episode or a small arc conclude a story swiftly as it holds more of my attention and means the story isn’t being dragged out. While I do love longer running arcs I always find myself forgetting plot points over time because it keeps going and some of the older info gets lost in my brain (but maybe that’s just me aha). I’m a big fan of shows like Gintama because of it’s episodic style and I love how story arcs are for the most part concluded within a couple episodes and then move on. I think it’s a great and often under-appreciated style of story telling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      I forget about plot points too, so you aren’t alone. One episode or a mini arc is just the perfect amount of time to explore something without taking the character taking too long. Glad you and other people agree. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad I’m not alone on that one! And yeah exactly! 😄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Irina says:

    OMG – I just wrote almost the exact same post…
    Great minds…good job

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Scott says:

      Darn, we could have done a collab…

      We think too alike sometimes….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Irina says:

        I’ll take that as a compliment

        Liked by 1 person

  3. negativeprimes says:

    An even more extreme example would be Restaurant to Another World: episodic anime at its finest. 😺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, that is an excellent example.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like Black Lagoon as an example, where the series has an overarching meta-plot whose end they reach by having a number of 2-3 episode story arcs each which ends with the main characters in a slightly different place. (The follow-on OVA doesn’t do that, alas.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      I like that kind of format as well! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The episodic format tends to work better for comedy and things with filler, I’ve found. That way, it’s easier to hit the “reset” button with less ramifications.

    For some reason, I’m more in favour of shows that start episodic, then move to an overarching plotline later, using plot elements introduced in the episodic part, and wrap up neatly in the last arc/s (for longer shows) or last 2 – 4 episodes (for shows of about 12 episodes). By using both in certain measures, most of the flaws of episodics and arcs get mitigated, although the exact success of this structure’s execution depends on the show and the staff in the end.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scott says:

      Hmmm, Comedy Anime really does get away with a lot of things, doesn’t it? And not sure what you leave by reset button when there is an easy way to have continuity in an episodic series.

      Like

      1. I guess “reset button” might not have been the best phrase to use, because what I meant was returning to the status quo in both cases, but something like character or plot development has a higher chance of sticking around in comedy shows after the reset point (although under the surface before it’s required again), whereas after filler it gets ignored or no longer exists once the show goes back to adapting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Scott says:

        Ah ok, fair enough. 😁

        Like

  6. crazyidiot78 says:

    Yes, i couldn’t agree more

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ray says:

    I totally agree! In fact, before ‘prestige television’ became a thing and it was the best thing to follow Westworld or Game of Thrones etc., I really found anime to be superior to American television for precisely that reason.

    It’s so much more rewarding to watch a storyline play out over an extended period time, and let characters grow over the long haul. That’s why I always loved following an anime series more than one-shot movies no matter how fancy the animation.

    Keep up the episodics! Especially those 700-episode sagas based off the voluminous volume of mangas, y’know what I mean…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Scott says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean 😁.

    Like

  9. theanimeprince says:

    My immediate problem is you bring up no concrete argument as to why episodic is better than “long arcs”. You talk about knowing the characters a bit more because episodically they can be placed in different locations and presented with different situations that allow us to see them react differently.
    That has nothing to do with it being episodic. A long arc can easily achieve that. Really, up to the creativity of the writer/director. I mean I could be analyzing this wrong but it seems to me that you are calling long arcs to the stand and accusing them of being worse at having dynamic settings, world-building and teaching us about how the characters think.

    I personally think you grew this misconception due to lackluster performances of the shows you’ve watched and categorized their failure in a list and came out with more successes in the “episodic” category and more failures in the “long arc” category. And I find this problem a lot of the times in the anime community. But forget that let’s talk about LWA, for example. I watched LWA and I did enjoy it at first just like you. And started to dislike it around the part where the plot was setting in. Just like you. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t finishing LWA as it was falling down in quality. Would I say it was due to its transition from episodic to “long arc”? Not in a million years. The problem was its box-standard way of storytelling, predictability and reasoning. It seemed very much like a typical “Cinderella” story, if you will. Therefore, I found it extremely predictable even if I enjoy the characters slogging through this re-hashed journey and, finally, I found 0 reason to keep watching as I could see the rest of the journey from a mile away. That’s on the fault of writing; not the kind of story.

    Moreover, I would like to extend my own opinion which is the inverse of yours. I think “long arcs” are necessary to tell a fully-fleshed out story and episodic is … situational for the plot of said story. I think it should only be used for certain episodes depending on what you wanna do with the characters and how it will aid in telling the plot as a whole. I think “episodic story-telling” doesn’t really exist. Rather, it’s just a series of random musings that are often intended to be of comedic value. Albeit there are rare cases in some anime like you brought up in Mushishi and Kino’s Journey. But even those are still missing in plenty of standard elements in my experience watching series like those.

    In a nutshell: they tell anecdotes. Not stories.

    Like

    1. Scott says:

      That’s nice.

      Like

    2. Scott says:

      I here what you are saying and you have some valid criticisms, I do talk about how I like long, sprawling arcs in the second part of the post. I guess didn’t explain why I think a seasonal arc and arcs that last a couple cours or longer work for me.

      That being said, I’m not buying into that “anectdotes, not stories” thing, so that way of thinking is fundamentally flawed to me because they are stories. Just because a story is shorter doesn’t meant that it’s not a story.

      Like

      1. theanimeprince says:

        I never said an anecdote was not a story because it’s shorter. It’s not a story because they typically do not meet the standard criteria of what a story should be.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. WeeaBroDerek says:

    Oh yeah. completely agree. Violet Evergarden is an excellent example of the episodic format with a much larger arc playing out in the backdrop of each episodic arc. We get conflict introduction and resolution each episode, but every one of those events ends up further pushing that larger narrative ass well. I think Death Parade is another successful example of that kind of storytelling. If done well, like in DP and VG, it can really leave an impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WeeaBroDerek says:

      As well..* lol Got too excited there.

      Like

  11. Ty-chama says:

    To be honest, I hadn’t noticed a preference towards anime with long story arcs amongst anime fans. Generally speaking, with the constant bombardment of information and overabundance of choice that we constantly face, I’d have thought people would prefer something that would require less commitment and concentration over a long period of time, i.e. episodic shows. I’ve always loved episodic shows myself, pretty much for the reasons you stated. Some of my favourites are Kino’s Journey, Mushishi, and XXXHOLiC. But where they fall down are their finales. Compared to shows that have dedicated serious time to building a complex story or to unravelling drama between a cast of characters, the finales of episodic shows can often lack oomph, if that makes sense…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      That makes plenty of sense. I think that’s why Kino’s Journey (2003) went out on a big note like that, though it still lacked the impact of saying goodbye to a big main cast.

      Like

  12. > To push this a little further, an episodic series allows its characters to be put into different locations and react to different situations every time we see them. By doing this, we get to know these characters more. Based on what a character is presented to do, we can get a deeper sense of a character’s ideology, how they deal with loss and frustration, or what kind of sense of humor they have.

    I think Ranma 1/2 is a perfect example of mini-arcs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      I’ve only watched a little bit of that series, but I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a bit older but it’s worth the watch. You end up loving all the characters for their idiosyncrasies. The humour can be a little ecchi at times too, haha.

        What’s great is that it’s by Rumiko Takahashi, who also did Inu Yasha. She was just inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Awards Hall of Fame too: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2018-07-21/rumiko-takahashi-inducted-into-will-eisner-comic-awards-hall-of-fame/.134542

        Like

  13. thetsundokuchronicles378599684 says:

    Normally I tend to steer away from episodic anime as I find it a little boring. But at the exact same time I’ve loved shows like Cowboy Bebop and Kino’s Journey that are built on this kind of format. I guess episodic writing is one of those writing tools that are either handled well or just aren’t. Why it’s used well the results can be brilliant, when it’s not it’s, well, dull.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Hmmmm, you might be right on that :).

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Asad Raza says:

    This was fire and so indepth too I agree!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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