FLCL and Breaking Format

FLCL is available to stream on Funimation/VRV and Hulu.

I get really excited whenever I see a show with only eleven episodes in its season.

Not because that makes it faster to get through my long backlog of the many great and wonderful things being made these days. (Granted, that’s definitely a mark in favor of shorter series.)

More because it implies a certain level of self-awareness.

Somewhere around 95% of shows are either 12-13 or 24-26 episodes – and that’s a totally mathematical number, definitely not one that I made up on the spot or ballparked based on my watching history. This is, of course, because they are produced for television, which runs in quarterly seasons (which anime is especially regular at). That means about 13 weeks of airtime per season – you make an episode to fill out every single time slot, maybe shave off a week to give your team a rest or some lead time to get ready for the next show in the pipeline, and that leaves you with a pretty standard episode count.

So when a show doesn’t do that, it’s usually for a reason.

And whether or not that’s an especially good reason, that at least means that a show knows exactly what it wants to do and is set on doing it, industry conventions be damned.

I won’t defend Endless Eight as a smart idea, but I’ll stand by the writers’ decision to do it.

And we do have a lot of really good examples of shows that use this to their advantage, both in the overscheduling and underscheduling direcitons.

2016’s The Great Passage / Fune wo Amu ran just 11 episodes, which seems perfectly aware of the amount of space that show needed to quite directly adapt its source material and retain its pacing. Besides, while I’m personally happy as a clam to watch a full fiction show about dictionary-making, I respect that a full season of that is a bit much for most viewers.

Personal favorite CLANNAD: After Story appears to run a fairly standard 24 episodes, but between one-offs like the baseball-focused episode and a wistful full-episode-length recapping of the entire series (which serves to solidify details about its ending), the actual arc of the story is told inside of 21. In fact, the earlier shows shows adapting Key’s visual novels hop between self-contained character arcs of variable length, which leaves the actual meat of After Story more like 14 episodes if you want to get stingy and specific.

Then there’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, that rambunctious scamp. Its whole shtick is built around serial escalation, outdoing itself, and continuing to one-up audience expectation. So, naturally, episode 26 isn’t the grand finale that a normal television schedule would definitely stick it to, but instead it continues to climb on into an appropriately-ludicrous episode 27.

I’m even appreciating this about western shows nowadays – given, the series that come to mind (Voltron, A Series of Unfortunate Events) are built for streaming in the first place, so they don’t carry the same break-the-mold-iness.

FLCL, granted, did not run in any sort of regular time slot, instead going direct-to-video. Heck, it took almost an entire year to come out in its entirety. Gainax’s earlier landmark mecha series Gunbuster! did the same thing. And both are a bit odd to think about now, as these were coming out in an age before digital distribution, meaning that fans would have to both know about them in the first place and have the initiative to go seek them out.

Well, at least, they’re odd to think about for someone who was at most ten years old when this was common practice.

Budget concerns aside for keeping a home video (OVA) release short in length, the fact that FLCL existed so far outside the normal conventions of TV anime releases was a huge green flag that it knew exactly what it’s doing with its time and resources.

Six episodes.

One to set the mood, six to use its weirdo sensibilities to tell parables about adolescence and the human condition, and one to close things out in a satisfying way.

(They overlap a bit.)

And even now, its follow-through and sticking the landing on a show half the length of most has left a satisfying taste in my mouth that makes me look forward to anything not fitting the standard broadcast-size box.

They tend to have a good handle on themselves.

Ride on, shooting star.

3 thoughts on “FLCL and Breaking Format

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