Pointless Debate #3: Second Season Syndrome

Have you ever gotten to a stage in life where you have reached a goal and then complacency set in? There are plenty of examples of bands making second albums that are garbage or the exact same in comparison to their first, athletes playing hard on a contract year and then mailing it in once they have their money or politicians ignoring their constituents with re-election seemingly in the bag. This being an anime blog after all, there are plenty of examples from that world too.There used to be a time where series had six months minimum of air time. There were a limited number of places where anime could air at the time, this combined with natural filters in place which could fairly accurately determine success (mainly manga sales), paying for as much air time as possible to complete a story made a bunch of sense.1 By the late-90s 12 or 13 episode series began to make an appearance though these were mainly limited to fan-service heavy action series (City Hunter and Those Who Hunt Elves being somewhat ahead of their time). Fast-forward to the present and with numerous options on where to show anime, anywhere between 60-80% of new series are done this way.2 The end result, and inspiration for this debate is one of it’s unintended consequences, awful second seasons.

Doing the Exact Same Thing

So something was successful enough to get a second season, so why not just do the exact same thing for another season. There’s hardly any difference between the first and second seasons of Girls Bravo, maybe a couple minor plot points, but plot was never the major concern there. Of course, for those who do not care about story or plot, more of the same could be quite welcome. However, too much of the same thing can wear people down.3 This tends to be a danger area when I’m watching one. I happen to be drawn to new experiences and new stories, so when after a short break, a series resumes in the exact same fashion, it sort of invalidates the whole thing to me.

Misato Suguru stares up at Jupiter

Yet another typical Gainax ending.

Excessive Creativity

On the other hand, there is always the danger of changing things too much or lengthening the time that horrible scenario writing becomes obvious. The break between seasons only results in more characters being introduced and everything becomes too complicated for its own good. Then there are the endings.

The thing about a lot of multi-season shows is that the first season doesn’t have to worry about writing an ending.4 The possible existence of a second season allows such a thing to be put off. Feel like rushing an ending because you have to resolve every plot thread in the first 15 minutes of the final episode? Go right ahead. Feel like the ending in the original source material isn’t going to work with test audiences? Change the story whenever you feel like it.5 Unable to go against your history of making endings that border on the surreal? Go ahead with that too.

The Part Where I Shoot Myself in the Foot

That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of well-executed seconds seasons. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s probably slots into my top 25 anime of all-time over the first season.6 Making some minor changes, making the action a little bit better, developing characters in different ways and doing the same thing with new ones. Is that really so hard? There’s also Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei which has as close to as good a mix of source material adaptation and Shinbo opinion.7

Conclusion: This post probably didn’t really work out in the way I intended. It was inspired by the second season of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu8, since there was no longer a secret and the only way they could think of to create tension was a pointless idol storyline. Does anyone else experience the same from multi-season shows? How do you feel about the proliferation of such series?

Footnotes:

1. The committee system made sense back then, raise money to keep someone else out. Now it happens to be the root cause of problems in the industry. But that’s another article.

2. The change from longer series being low-risk to shorter-series being low-risk financially is the major role here. Only a select few win in this system, but again, that’s another article.

3. The current season of K-ON!! was described as heroin cut with dish soap. Kyoto Animation, ruining the lives of its fans since 1981.

4. Though it did give the world the hilarity of NightWalker‘s surreal ending in its only season with the promise of a second season that never happened.

5. To be fair this was based on Full Metal Alchemist which is only one season, but the Brotherhood remake basically makes the whole venture look bad as a whole from an outsider’s perspective.

6. Any interest in this at all for a post?

7. It also led to one of my most infamous moments. A 1500-word argument for why Mataro is a brilliant character only to convince absolutely no one of her merits. Maybe I should have stopped there.

8. I would have added on the subsequent seasons of Zero no Tsukaima, but it seemed far too easy a target for this. Added to the fact that it got a third season makes me wish the first season would have been as bad as the other 2.

6 thoughts on “Pointless Debate #3: Second Season Syndrome

  1. Nanoha A’s was amazing.

    Personally, I’m so sick of watching anime series that don’t resolved because they leave them open to, if they were successful, a second season. But it’s not guaranteed, and the second season may not be good. *sigh*

    • I think I’m probably more bothered by the ones that already have a second season planned before the first episode of the first season airs. It’s like they need the 3 or 6 months off to somehow make the second half better, only for them to still mess it up in the end. As far as something going for a second season and not getting it, I could only think of the one blatant example, but there have to be more out there.

  2. What always depresses me is when the second season — and subsequent sequels — keep dipping in quality to the point where the show is just a shadow of its former self. People go back and forth on whether Zoku is superior to the first season of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but you’d have to be blind to not see the dip in quality in Zan. Each season of Minami-ke has become progressively worse. Code Geass and Gundam 00’s second seasons both took a noticeable dip (even if I still liked them). And so on and so forth.

    • Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is sort of a special case since each little story can be traced back to a specific chapter of the manga. There were enough good chapters to make Zoku comparable to the first season, but by Zan the limitations were fairly obvious like you say. Minami-ke was declining in quality to the point where I think I could have been drawing by the 4th season and improving things.

      Interestingly, having not actually seen the 2nd season of Geass (and not watching Gundam since SEED Destiny), I wonder if that season alone is better for me than someone who had watched both.

  3. Nothing worse than seeing something you like become worse and/or terrible during it’s second season. I don’t think I’ve seen many (if any) shows where the second season has been superior to the first.

    • It’s definitely a horrible thing that happens far too often. Maybe it is weight of expectations for the second season. Probably better off making a second season impossible or just running them consecutively.

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