Where Do "Seasons" On Long-Running Anime Begin And End?
by Justin Sevakis,
Years ago, most of anime I saw were long-runners like Naruto or Bleach. When looking up episode lists on Wikipedia, I always get confused about what they refer to as "seasons". Sometimes it corresponds to the story arc, but other times, in the case of Dragon Ball Z or One Piece (or the newer episodes of Fairy Tail), it just seems to cut off at random. How long is a typical "season", and how do you tell when the season is over and when a new one begins?
With late-night anime, which run in pretty predictable chunks of 11-13 episodes (with a separation of over a year if it returns), it's pretty easy to figure out where the "seasons" of an anime begin and end. However, for the non-late-night shows, the ones that air for years without interruption, it's pretty hard to tell, and there's a lot of conflicting information out there. That's because, for these types of anime, they don't actually HAVE seasons, as Americans would think of them.
The idea of "seasons" for broadcast TV shows is mostly an American concept. It dates back to the American radio dramas of the 1930s when it became clear that people weren't tuning in during the summer months: it was too hot inside to huddle around a giant radio like they usually did. Families were outside, kids were playing, agrarian America took to the fields and urban America took vacations. Producers of weekly dramas began taking the months of July and August off, filling in those weeks with reruns—the earliest example I can find of this is the 1938 season of the domestic sitcom Fibber McGee and Molly. As time went on, that became a more structured practice, with new programming being introduced in the fall and running until the summer hiatus.
I couldn't find much information on pre-war Japanese radio, but Japanese TV broadcasting didn't start until the 1950s, and early broadcasts were dubbed versions of American sitcoms like I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best. Local Japanese productions, inspired by those shows, didn't really take off in earnest until Japan's huge economic boom of the 1960s (which, of course, was also was the beginning of TV anime). The American practice of new fall seasons was never really observed, however. Japanese broadcasts were far more whimsical in their scheduling. Drama producers would break up their shows into separate series, much like British television, and those series would be produced and introduced to audiences according to no particular schedule. For example, the much-loved domestic drama Arigatou aired from April till October 1970, but the second series didn't come along until the end of January 1972. Then series 3 aired only three months after the second finished up. This isn't too far off from how most late-night anime works today; if the first series of 12 or 13 episodes is a hit, another series will follow when it's good and ready.
But for long-running kids and family programming, which runs for years without interruption, there really isn't any such thing as a "season". There is no break in the show. A producer might opt to chop a series up into multiple sub-series (such as the myriad Bakugan and Precure series), to make them easier to collect on video and sell overseas. They might also use the occasion to do some fresh promotion for the show, shuffle around staff, and plan story arcs around those breaks. But then again, they might not. For a long-running show like Naruto Shippūden, there really weren't any defined "seasons"—I'm not sure where those came from in the English Wikipedia entry. Indeed, the Japanese Wikipedia episode list breaks down the show by story arcs. The official DVDs and episode listings from Viz make no mention of seasons. Hulu's listing does have seasons (which was possibly done just to force the show into Hulu's rigid framework), but they don't match what's on Wikipedia.
I honestly have no idea where those "seasons" are coming from. I have a feeling it's an invention by whatever otaku put that into Wikipedia.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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