I once mentioned in one of my early posts, found here, that one of the things I wanted to see less of were split cour series. In case you don’t know, split cour series refers to a series that airs about 12 episodes in a season, takes a season off, and then airs another 10-13 episodes 3 months later. Now I said I didn’t like them because I didn’t really see the point of them, and that whatever dramatic effects they might have been going for in a few major examples, didn’t really work out. However I had never considered that split cour series would be too damaging, I always considered them a minor annoyance, a small sacrifice to the business practicalities of airing anime. But then this season happened.
In case you haven’t read my last few posts, almost all of them say the same damn thing over and over, the ending was botched somehow. The examples I mentioned in the old post linked above generally have the same problem. But while I always expect some shows to screw up with their endings in any given season, this season in particular has been atrocious on that front. Almost every major release this season ended up being a split cour series and in turn almost all of them have shoddy endings. Because of this, I have given the split cour series some more thought and realized I may have missed the worst aspect of all in my old post, they make people lazy. Bear with me here. The trend I’m seeing with this season reminds me of the all of the unfinished, broken video games that have been coming out over the past few years as pre-ordering games is pushed harder and harder. Split cour series may not be the same as pre-orders, but think about how they operate from a sales standpoint and the similarities between both practices become more apparent. The primary goal of a pre-order is to entice people to buy the game early because that helps companies predict their sales and know their incoming income. The problem arises when companies, seeing as they already have our money, decide to give quality control the middle finger and hand out broken, shitty games, because again, they already have our money. And while it might not be as intuitive, split cour series follow a similar path.
A split cour series’ primary goal is to get us fans hyped for the second season. There’s nothing wrong with that. But look at it this way, in the past these shows likely would have been double cour (24 or so episode series). What that means is that where fans used to be able to buy the whole show in a single dvd collection, they are now divided into two separate releases, each with their own price tag. Ok, you might say, that looks a bit sleazy but how is that like pre-orders? Well if someone buys the season 1 dvds, then odds are they will buy the season 2 dvds so they can have the whole series. In this way it helps companies predict their sales to some extent. That’s not the part that bothers me though. What bothers me is the disregard for quality. Remember the idea is that the companies selling the shows want us to buy the dvds. If we have all the dvds at our fingertips we can marathon the shows and any problems that may result from a split cour ending. For example, Gangsta had a fucking terrible ending. But if you have the dvds for season 1 and 2, you could watch it all back to back and poof, the problem goes away. But what happens if you don’t have the dvds? Well then it sucks to be you because you get to see a pair of disjointed series that were clearly designed to be a single larger release, split in two because of the business advantages of doing so. Essentially the businessmen are tapping into the simple desire to see a story from beginning to end to get more money. That in and of itself is kind of problematic, but my issue is less with the greed and more with methods. Because their aim is to make money, they are choosing a method that encourages dvd sales. Which is fine, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be paid for good work. But the key thing here is “good work”, and split cour series are showing with frightening consistency that quality is a secondary concern, if it’s a concern at all.
This is what really worries me. I mean I don’t like seeing companies get greedy but I admit that so long as the means are decent the ends are less important to me. But with split cour series I see a process, or perhaps it would be better to say a philosophy, that cares not about the means, only the ends. This setup is designed for failure from both a business standpoint and an artistic one. If the idea behind split cour series is that we will buy both sets of dvds, let me ask you a question. Who will end up not buying either set of dvds because each set individually is a lower quality product than the total of both? Not all of your customers are going to be forward thinking artistic types who see that the value of the show is in the sum of both parts. Instead many people who might have bought the dvds will remember the low quality of an incomplete season 1 and quite reasonably choose not to buy any of the dvds. Furthermore some of your customers may not be able to afford both seasons and will be forced to give your show a pass whether they want to or not so that they can buy something more worthwhile for their money. This is a valid concern. Even in a dedicated niche market, the customer will generally look for the best deal and when you start doubling the price tag to get the whole story, my guess is it will hurt your business long term even if it succeeds, and I don’t think it will, in the short term. Look I’m no expert when it comes to the business of selling anime but I can say this, look at the video game industry. Pre-orders are at an all time low, because the customers have been burned too many times. I don’t think the anime industry, which has never been the most secure financially, can afford to have a similar thing to happen. For all of my complaining I want anime to succeed and grow and with split cour series I see a short-sighted plan that might cause it to shrink or even fail altogether.
The other major concern is what it means for the art. I mentioned in my first Raging Rant, that I wanted to see more approval and appreciation for the craft of making anime. And split cour series shit all over that craft. In my experience almost every split cour series would have worked better as a double cour series, which makes me think that’s what they might have been all along. Call me cynical but I would not be overly surprised to learn that the split cour series we have been seeing were originally pitched as double cour series and then forcibly wrenched in two parts by sales guys or businessmen. I mean shit, Hollywood’s been doing that with movies for a few years now. But that cheapens the artistry of the whole process when you force the story to stop where it naturally shouldn’t. I mean how else can you explain the unmitigated string of abrupt, shitty endings that have been so widespread this season? This has never happened before, at least not since I’ve been watching anime. I’ve never seen quite this many bad endings during a single season. I’ve also never seen so many split cour series in a single season, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. If you think you can get better sales by sabotaging the art that makes your sales happen you are wrong. Oh sure you might get by for a while, but look at the gaming community. People are pissed at the DLC whoring, the pre-order bullshit and all the lies. Gamers mistrust game publishers more than ever and those greedy, short sighted publishers have earned that mistrust, not to mention the sales they have been losing, and they have been losing sales. I don’t want to see the anime industry to suffer a similar backlash.
To all the people who made the split cour series a thing, you’ve made a mistake. And mistakes happen to everyone. This one season full of fuck-ups will not see me stop watching anime. Because mistakes can be fixed, and I want to see this mistake corrected. But please understand that there are no winners as far as split cour series are concerned. Already fans are getting pissed at the current string of bad endings. I know I was talking a lot of doom and gloom and it probably sounds ridiculous because it hasn’t happened yet. But if you keep this up until it does happen it will be too late, the damage will have been done. Which is why I’m bitching now, as a warning for the terrible fate which lies further down the road. I know you need money to keep going whether you care only about your shows as a business or if you care about the artistry in them too. But you can’t damage your artistry and expect sales to suddenly skyrocket, because your artistry is what attracts so many people. Oh sure pandering, merchandise and other stuff brings some people in. But in my experienced opinion, the things people really respond to are the stuff you find in the craft and artistry. You break those to make money and you will break off a sizable portion of your fanbase. In a business that’s all about creativity, you can’t replace quality with quantity. The game industry thought it could do that back in the day and it caused the gaming market to crash. The dangers and consequences of short-sighted greedy plans are all over the internet staring you in the face, do not repeat those mistakes or you will suffer the same consequences. Anyway I think I’ve raged long and hard enough for one post, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.