On split cours and sequels

Image by maru (memoriatechnica) [Pixiv]

It’s only recently that I’ve started to believe that “cour” is in fact a word and not just a misspelling of “cur” (as in “that cur of a cour”). As it’s entered into the lexicon of anime over the past couple of years (AnimeNano puts its first use in English around 2011) it has become an easy shorthand for how long an anime series will run for. That word “series” ends up being problematic because - for me at least - it can now mean a whole multitude of things, thanks primarily to the introduction of “split cours”.

oh good another princess and the resurrection of characters who should be dead

As Wikipedia informs me, referring to a television broadcast (internet streaming simulcast etc.) as a “series” is a chiefly British use of the term, and in North America the more common term is “season”. “Season” works better when referring to something like anime because apart from a select few (One Piece et. al.), they can be measured in seasons i.e. winter, summer etc. and substituting “season” for “cour” isn’t exactly complex. However, semantically a problem arises when, as is becoming increasingly common, an anime runs for one season, lies fallow, and then finishes in another. The split cour.

From a production point of view I think Ask John’s article on it from 2012 does an excellent job of postulating the reasons companies and creatives do it and, even now two years later, very little of it can be refuted. The niggling issue I have with split cour shows is neither lexical nor material but emotional.

I watch anime for a lot of different reasons but one of them is for the story. As one book that I’ve read elaborated on (I wish I could remember which one, probably Dogs and Demons though there’s no e-book version to verify), Eastern stories tend to have a few core narratives told many different ways, while Western stories the opposite. It’s a massive generalisation of course but from the blinkered point-of-view anime offers, it’s difficult to repudiate. What’s rewarding for me however is having an anime finish broadcasting, and then be done. No more. Because it means I can start on something new.

Sure there are sequels and depending on the source material used they can either be welcomed or dreaded. But the point is that sequels are additional, regardless of their quality or the team that produces them, one thing has finished (e.g. Gunslinger Girl) and the next one is, for better or worse, logically separate (e.g. Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino). Splitting the broadcast of an anime becomes problematic for me because I can’t formulate any concrete thoughts on it - more is coming after all. It’s just coming in thirteen weeks so now I have all this time to muse over whether I want it to come back or not.

Image by kotatsu / anbiravens [Pixiv]

This is complicated by the practice of narratively making the first cour a complete arc, climax, denouement and all; so like finishing a particularly grueling section of a video game, there needs to be an impetus, and most crucially the will, to carry on. In this regard both split cour and sequels do this in exactly the same way: more.

More characters, more action, more silliness, more panty shots. Take the sequel to Durarara for instance. The first series wasn’t exactly light on characters, but now in this second outing the opening is wall-to-wall character intros. Or Tokyo Ghoul Root A - who the hell are those chaps and why is Kaneki siding with them? Or Aldnoah Zero - oh good another princess and the resurrection of characters who should be dead.

Those are just illustrations of my core point though which is fundamental to the idea of split cours and sequels in general: more is very rarely better. That may sound like me throwing my toys out of the pram because Mushishi got a sequel, and I loved that to bits. But. I would have been just as happy without it, and in a way I would be happier without a lot of the second cours and sequels that have come out. Chaika? Illya Zwei (which itself is getting a second cour). The endless Monogatari saga. Sword Art Online.

Introducing a split or adding a sequel incurs the same penalty: you inevitably dilute the original product (the first cour, the first series whatever) regardless of its treatment because the separation makes it the first rather than the start. Durarara was fine in 2010, but now four years later, the characters in the show have only progressed 6 months (or not at all if you listen to Mikado) so there’s familiarity but for a time that has inextricably passed. And if anything I watch anime for the unfamiliar, the unknown and the downright bizarre that is diametrically opposed by sequels and split cours.

Image by radu [Pixiv]

It’s a common complaint that the overrated shows, the Sword Art Onlines, the Shingeki no Kyoujins and the like get more while the underrated gems like Nozaki-kun or Hataraku Maou-sama are somehow relegated to a paltry one cour. Don’t get me wrong, I would love more of both of them, but only in concept. Perhaps that’s a criticism of the implementation rather than the nature of sequels and split cours, and more anime doing so will balance the scales (Fate/stay night UBW has a good chance with this).

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an echo of the common cry about Hollywood movies nowadays - it’s all sequels and franchises! Just scanning through the past year there has been plenty of superb one cour shows. For now. It’s just another slightly whiny data point in the cloud of general unease about anime at any given time, for now it seems to be risk aversion which, if splitting broadcast can in any way alleviate, I’ll suck it up and have nothing more to say on the matter, even if only announcing how long a series is after you’re sure it’s doing well seems ridiculously sneaky.

Take this more as a note of concern then. Reflections on my disconcertion when I sat down with the latest season’s batch of first episodes and felt only familiarity; but then the choice to watch what I knew - if only out of morbid curiosity - was my own. I wonder though whether fatigue will set in for productions like the Durarara sequel with its practically unheard of three (split) cour broadcast. For now though, this is little more than a declaration that I’m going to use “series” to cover all the cours an anime broadcasts over (Fate/stay night UBW as a series), and “season” to cover just that cour. I might throw “show” and “production” in there just to mess things up as well though.

Responses to “Bifurcated”

Your problem is really just...your problem? In that if you wait until everything comes out then watch it, it does not matter if it takes 39 weeks to release 26 episodes or 26 weeks, other than the wait.

The issue here isn't so much about sequels (which seems to be what you are really complaining about) or split cours, but the problems and limitations of serial broadcasting in general. If you don't like how a story sits in your head every week, and I think most would agree there are some shows that are more set up for marathoning than others, you certainly do not have to engage the material like a weekly circus.

The Ask John post doesn't harp on the number one reason to split cour productions: production and scheduling benefits. The whole "second season option" thing is more like a nuclear option, as broadcast slots tend to be set up 9-12 months ahead of time. It does happen from time to time, but it's exceedingly rare that a show gets "cancelled" out of a split cour (usually it's done to make way for something else, or out of contractual issues: see Galilei Donna, Wolf's Rain). It's more because the production pipeline can't handle the show and maintain a certain level of quality. This is notoriously why Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night UBW is getting that treatment.

None of which IMO is out of a narrative response. I think instead of Aldnoah.Zero it's better to examine Psycho-Pass, as far as a matter of a concern of serial continuity. Plus that one is already done.
So the solution to my issue is just not to watch anything current? Or at least not until I'm sure that the cour just gone is its last? That's an extreme solution to what I admitted is a whiny point at best.

You are exactly right though: this is an issue I have with serial broadcasts, specifically the distinctly unserial nature of splitting it. My comparison with sequels was to highlight the similar treatment that both seem to get in terms of structure and, except in rare cases, at the expense of narrative. My point isn't directly about the time between the broadcasts but that split cours are often not treated as narratively contiguous, meaning it wouldn't matter if I waited for everything to air and watched it all at once, they would still feel like two discrete shows.

Fate/zero managed to pull it off and I would imagine UBW will as well but in the same vein as not mentioning Aldnoah because it's spent too long huffing paint thinner, it seems unfair to mention Fate/ufotable because they're at the opposite end of the scale. In short, nothing I've seen with a split cour approach has managed to feel like it was one production divided into two that wasn't already episodic (Space Dandy, Mushishi et. al.)

As for the Ask John post, more or less the entire thing is about production and planning isn't it or are you saying it unfairly weighted the "extreme" possibilities? Regardless, I couldn't say whether Fate is notorious for it's approach so I'll take your word on that but I'd be interested in what you mentioned regarding Psycho Pass, are you referring to the latest series with the divide into a movie?

As always, really appreciate your thoughts.
Hm, I feel like even non-split cour shows that are 2 cours long generally have mid-season climaxes that create a separation between the 2 halves. Like, say, the 1st season of Durarara, or the recent 2nd season of SAO. In that sense, isn't a a split-cour show only different from the time standpoint, ie a particularly long gap between episodes 12 and 13? And so I'm not sure I can agree that split cour shows suffer from the same problems sequels do of needlessly tacking on more. I mean, I guess examples exist like Aldnoah Zero, but Aldnoah Zero is a pretty SPECIAL show in many ways, and if you look at something like Chaika or Space Dandy, you can clearly tell the entire series was set up as one full season, just split into 2 logical sub-sections.
It does seem to be natural for to two-cour series to have a mid-point climax (it almost gives the whole series a three-act structure) but the time issue, like you say, is probably the crux of my point. So if you take something like the second series of Railgun, the mid-point climax happened, then the next few episodes were gentle "lifey" episodes that then steadily ramped back up with drama.

I don't want to use Aldnoah as an example because, I agree it is "special", but you put the two cours together and it goes from climax straight into more action. Space Dandy, like Mushishi get a massive pass from me because both of them are episodic (and each brilliant in their own way) so there isn't really a greater sense of story beyond each episode - though there is an implied story I suppose.

I guess my point as an analogy is best illustrated with apples. If someone gave you a whole apple, you could eat it and be done with it - nice apple. If someone gave you half an apple though, and didn't tell you if you were getting the other half until you'd almost finished that first half, and only then twelve weeks later... Well I've eaten a whole bunch of different things between then and now, and the other half of the apple might be brown and tangy by that time...

That was a bit off the wall I'll admit but hopefully it illustrates my point? Or maybe not if you don't like apples at all.
When a new season starts, I'm always most interested in the new shows, too. But I do tend to feel differently about split cours and sequels. I sort of do view split cour shows as a single show, while I tend to view sequels as two shows.

I think the first time I noticed a split cour was with Kimi to Boku. At a time where slice of life shows, with more or less comedy added, were commonly featuring a cast of four to five girls, Kimi to Boku did the same thing with boys. It aired in 2011 and again in 2012; during the season it was off televesion, another slice of life comedy with boys was airing - Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou. I found that in itself interesting: it wasn't really a trend, just a cluster. The more manly comedy airing sandwiched between the more gentle and laid-back show. I remember wondering how much people were co-ordinating this constellation, though I never did any research. It was the first time that I realised that a show that is planned as one show doesn't have to air all at once.

I generally do prefer the regular two-cour to a split cour, but I don't mind them too much.

Sequels are sort of different. I wasn't too excited about the Durarara sequel, mostly because I felt the second cour of the original run was already weaker than the first cour, so my hopes aren't that high.

I can understand how such a post comes out this season: the preview looked awful, with anything that looks halfway interesting being a sequel. Luckily, the reality of the season isn't nearly as bleak.

There are many pleasant surprises among the new-comers this season: Two examples:

Rolling Girls: I expected a healing anime in a post-apocalyptic setting. No such thing. This is a colourful and fun fighting anime with the attention to detail that you'd expect from a good slice-of-life show (where this is the main draw). The plot moves swiftly, so you don't mind that it's unexceptional. The setting, a fractured and conflicted Japan with mercenaries, is suitably in the background, so it remains interesting. The show is obviously made to be entertaining first, with intriguing elements played down, so that they're shallowness doesn't disturb and you get the feeling of a depth that may or may not be there (If it isn't that's fine, because the show's so pretty and fun).

Junketsu no Maria: The summaries you read about the show are accurate, but don't do it justice. I expected more of the bread-and-butter lewd jokes, but what is there is surprisingly subdued and contextualised in a pagan vs. Christian setting, which seems to be more than just an alibi surface (though I wouldn't expect any deep exploration). Above all, war was surprisingly scary and chaotic. This promises to be quite entertaining, too.

But it is disheartening to see a season preview and the only thing that catches your interest is familiar stuff. There is one advantage to split cours, though:

If I don't actually like the show, it's easier to quit on it in the middle. This happened with Silver Spoon, which I thought was boring, shallow and at times distrubing in the way it presented itself. I didn't watch the second season, but I have no doubt, had it been a regular two-cour show, I'd have watched it through to the end.
Split cours I can sometimes merge into one "show" depending on how the story is left at the split, but for something like Chaika the end of the first cour felt like such a good stopping point that the second cour just felt a bit tacked on, even if it was planned from the start.

As for two-cour shows - I used to be a huge proponent of them, seeing one cour shows as only half a "series"; nowadays though I'm a little more wary because even in twelve/thirteen episodes you can tell such a good story and the brevity can, if used correctly, work in its favour. Otherwise you just get something like Akame ga Kill which just seemed to drag on and on...

I'm always a bit wary of initially viewing an anime season as a whole (like you say with "the preview") but this season is the first I've started so many series as they air. This past year I've just cherry picked the last season shows that looked interesting which seemed to work out fairly well.

I haven't seen Rolling Girls yet though it is on the list, Junketsu no Maria I was pleasantly surprised with mostly due to the setting but the witch "hierarchy" (for want of a better word) is intriguing. If you're looking for slice-of-life then Koufuku Graffiti's first episode might interest you.

I'm surprised at your reaction to Silver Spoon though - what did you find disturbing about it?
1. Chaika is a bit hard to judge for me, since I've been comparing to the superior Scrapped Princess all the while. This also means that had a good idea where the show was going, and so I didn't really have a sense of closure at the end. I think the biggest problem here is that the show had too few episodes, and I think part of that was a timing problem, since I hear the light novels were finishing up at around the same time. Apparantly, they did the same sort of thing with Scrapped Princess, only there it worked out. It's possible that the reduction to 10 episodes happened late, or that the novels were harder to adapt. I simply don't know.

2. I generally prefer one-cour shows, but it's not a big difference really. I'm very wary of picking up anything that runs for longer than two cours, though sometimes I do. I'm fine with sequels, but they rarely excite me. I do want a third season of Spice and Wolf, because the second season left us in a rather interesting place.

Second seasons of a show definitely have to better, though, than your avarage show to convince me, because the lure of the new content isn't there.

3. The last few years, I've picking up anything that looked even slightly interesting, and I'd give anything that wasn't a complete turn off at least a glance. I've been slowing down a bit since last season, since anime glut moves in. (I move in obsessions.)

4. Kofuku Graffity is nice. It's got the typical shaft prettyness. What it's lacking is an identity of its own so far. Come to think of it, a trademark style can have an effect similar to a sequel: "seen that before".

5. Silver Spoon. This one's going to take some time.

My first impression of Silver Spoon was that this is "farming for dummies", as subtle as a school text book and just as exciting. There were some hints of interesting character development. If there hadn't been, I wouldn't have watched it.

I've grown up in a small city, and since both my parents were working, we (my sister and I) had a nanny while we were little. She's a farmer and we spent a lot of time at the farm. We've been herding cows and playing with baby pigs (there are pictures). We've named a calf.

We were always aware that these animals are there for food and will get slaughtered. (There was a slaughter house not far from where I live, and I could smell and hear the pigs in there.)

There's a subtle feeling when you live with that knowledge. In fact, the shintoist aspect of many anime comes very close to understanding that. There's meaning behind the "itadakimasu" that's intuitive for me.

So now here's Hachiken, who does not have these experiences, who has never questioned where the food comes from. That's actually an interesting concept. But the problem I had was that I didn't feel the reactions of the farmers. The whole thing had a vibe to it that said: "We've been suppressing this, and now you city boy come along and open our eyes and wow us with your honesty and courage." Cheese girl even says he has to take responsibility for doing that.

That just didn't ring true to me. It didn't help that at the same time Uchouten Kazuko was airing, which embodied the same conflict much better (albeit a little more magical) with Benten and that professor. And this where I approach the creepiness aspect:

In Uchouten Kazuko the animals, the tanuki, were personified, and the show was about them. At the same time, there was no demonification of the eaters. Most of the Friday Club were just regular likable old men. For the tanuki there was a mix of fear and fascination; for the people there was a mix of affection and indulgence. Uchouten Kazuko asked no question; it just portrayed the situation as the author sees it. And the lense is coloured by the hedonistic life style of the tanuki. What is fun is good.

In Silver Spoon the show does ask the question, and it also provides an answer: why kill pigs? Because they're delicious. I find this line of thought deeply disturbing. The pigs are objectified: it's about being cute vs. being delicious. It's about the effort you put in. Not wanting to kill pigs is a city-boy reaction: something you have to deal with if you want to work on a farm. It's contextualised with eating eggs after seeing them come out of a hen's cloaca. There's a thin veneer of affection: apologizing to the pigs, etc. But it didn't feel genuine. We then see them visiting Tamako's farm, where we don't compare living conditions, but are in awe of the technology, and how they are also really good with the animals... It felt like farming propaganda: raising important questions only to shoot them down.

There was a scene where Hachiken and Mikage were sitting on a bench. Hachiken was brooding about Butadon, and Mikage was offering hime skewered pork. If this had been me, I couldn't have eaten it. Not right then and there.

There's a secondary element in here, and it's the collectivism often at display in anime. When they say "because it's delicious," it's not actually in favour of indugence. Food, in anime and manga, is always at the center of a community. Eating is a communal activity, and producing food is important. There's a sense of complacancy. A sense of the community is always right. The first season at least ignored vegetarians. Because of the way the community is set up I wonder how they'd treat the subject. I'm not hopeful I'd like the treatment.

I didn't even consider watching the second season/cour. The show's just antithetical to my view of life. It speaks to me in all the wrong ways.
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