Life's Great Mysteries: Does animation vs. live action affect the time that a show runs?

This is sort of a pilot to a series of posts that I'm going to try to start that I call "Life's Great Mysteries." I had originally thought about calling it "Solving Life's Greatest Mysteries with the Great and Brilliant Marth," but I figured that was a bit too long (and too modest).

So I've been wondering lately about the different trends I see in American TV shows and anime regarding length. If you look at many of the shows in anime recently, they're all either 12 episodes or 25 episodes long and then they're just finished.

On the other hand, the shows I follow in America have been going on for 3+ seasons. Scrubs ran 9 seasons, White Collar is sitting on 3 seasons, Leverage and Castle are sitting on Season 4, and Chuck and The Big Bang Theory are on Season 5.

Let's take the popular shows in the fall season for example to compare. Persona 4 is going to run 25 episodes, which you may count as 2 seasons, Guilty Crown is slated for 22 episodes, which is similar, and Fate/Zero is running 13 episodes, with a second season picking up later.

So I wonder: is this a result of animation versus live acting? My thinking was that on one hand, animation may require more effort because of the strain of drawing and moving every single scene and that may have something to do with the production patterns. But on the other hand, live acting may run into similar stress because of the constant rigidity of real life (aka physics) and the problems of setting and props.

Living with a 12 year old younger sister introduces you to the animated side of America too, and I notice they similarly run for long stretches. So now I wonder if these different production patterns say something about each culture's approach to entertainment.

Maybe American viewers like to familiarize themselves with a certain cast going through a story while Japan tends to stick to certain motifs starring a multitude of different casts. Or maybe Japan takes an approach of starting on a clean slate when trying new things while America tries innovate while still working around the base they've set.

Before you say anything, yes, I know that Japan has live action shows. I don't really know much about how those sorts of Japanese shows run, but I wonder if they run similarly to American shows. Maybe that would rule out a cultural difference.

Another possibility is that the entire difference is intentional. Maybe producers feel that live actors feel more real to the viewers and are easier to become attached to, making it harder for them to change up their shows. Whereas producers for animation may believe that the flexibility of animation gives them free reign to try completely new characters designs to broaden their viewership.

I'm curious to hear what you all think of this situation. Is there something I missed? Am I completely nuts? Is everything I said nonsensical and boring? Is anime the greatest thing in the world and not at all comparable to 3D? Are the images too distracting from the post itself? All of these are questions that you may have and for which I would definitely want to know the answers. And since you're all so clever, I'm sure there are other things that I haven't even thought of that you want to say, so comment below! Not only would I appreciate feedback on this post, but I'd also love to see some suggestions for other questions I might tackle.

Posted in: Editorials

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  • feal87

    Nov. 23, 2011, 4:36 p.m.

    I think its more about different targets and different way to adapt a story. For example, most anime series in Japan are adapted from an original material that is "more or less" finished and stable. It's not easy to create material from thin air without discontenting fans of the original work...

    I also think that economy influence it a bit, due to very different price ranges between America's DVD/BD and Japan's DVD/BD...

    New questions? What about talking about something more closely linked to our blogger world? :P



    Nov. 23, 2011, 10:36 p.m.

    From my experience, DVD or BD sales don't drive much in American television, it's usually air time that decides its success. Better airtime (or schedule time) = higher ad prices = more revenue. I've never seen people clamor over the DVD release of shows on television.


  • beldenotaku

    Nov. 23, 2011, 10:32 p.m.

    I think the main reasons live action (especially American live action) shows run longer, in the case of Scrubs, is because it's constantly being written to poke fun at newer trends, and like Chuck, because new arcs are constantly being written into the story, with drastic turns to reel back in audience members. Whereas anime is typically written to completion before it's produced or aired (with exceptions, Bleach being a prime).
    Most anime are shown with a primary finish in store, while some may be able to spin off alternate stories on the same premise, most don't usually continue to write it's own story indefinitely or until the audience share disappears. In a sense, this is an advantage, producers and writers have the ability to end the show on their own terms. Shows like Scrubs often don't even get to finish airing their final season, whereas (unless it totally bombs) most anime typically finish their cour or season.
    It all depends on what you want, a long-term ride (I personally love NCIS which has gone for a few years now and has several large plot shifts), or the short-term purpose-driven series (I'll take a slice of life, like Lucky Star or A Channel, or action anime, like Code Geass or [C] any day of the week).



    Nov. 23, 2011, 10:56 p.m.

    so you're thinking it has something to do with the basis of anime plots on manga and light novels?



    Nov. 23, 2011, 11:01 p.m.

    Not so much the plots themselves, but more with the fact that most of them are finished and done (or at a stopping point if the series weren't to be continued) before the series is aired on television, whereas an American live action show will probably only have the first season written out, perhaps without an ending, and if it does well it'll continue, if it doesn't, viewers never see an end.


  • Sandybell

    Nov. 24, 2011, 4:15 a.m.

    I think anime graphics greatly help us to suspend our disbelief while watching. Our ability to easily tell that these are not normal people so we should not expect normal things from them increases our immersion, I think.

    Do you really want to see a high school drama in real life? Or a Code Geass? Or an evangelion? I doubt you'd have good enough actors for it, and even then, it'd feel outright ridiculous for these things to be done by real people.

    Also, from what I've been told, most of the japanese live action series are actually soap operas (guy loves girl, girls gets mysterious disease and dies, drama)

    As neither american or japanese, I really don't place myself in one party or the other when it comes to entertainment. If it's good and made passionately, I'll like it.

    Hey, why don't you try addressing dubs vs subs? I know for a fact that some english dubs are waaaaay better than japanese dubs, but a lot of people won't give them a chance because of stupid prejudices?



    Nov. 24, 2011, 8:14 a.m.

    that's interesting....while it's true I watch more dubs than most ppl, I've never really understood how to judge them, so I dunno, but maybe....


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