Thirty years ago, split-cour anime weren’t a thing. Thirty years ago, anime usually had between 20 and 200 episodes when aired on television, and these anime series usually had substantially less people working on them than modern anime does. But why?
It’s common knowledge that the industry is suffering due to (largely) corporate greed: the executives want more profit, they order more anime, they don’t let creators have the time and money to do their work, they don’t let creators have control over their work, and this causes people to leave the industry, and then there aren’t enough people to cover how many shows are coming out, and so forth– the cycle continues.
Back then, thirty years ago, creators had a lot more time to do their work (usually), and they certainly had the resources. That time let a lot of animators animate, direct, and storyboard entire episodes by themselves quite often, and it allowed for longer series (20+ episodes) to be produced more consistently, and they didn’t have to rely on the idea of a ‘split-cour’.
But what is “split-cour”? A single “cour” is 12 or 13 episodes –basically one season– of anime that airs consistently. A two-cour anime is an anime that airs for two seasons, which can range from anywhere between 20 and 30 episodes. A “split-cour” anime is defined as an anime that is technically a single series/season, but is aired in different seasons.
For example, Attack on Titan Season 2 is a single-cour anime with 13 episodes; Attack on Titan Season 1 is a two-cour anime with 25 episodes; and Attack on Titan Season 3 is a split-cour anime with 22 episodes (split between 12 episodes in part 1, and 10 episodes in part 2, which aired in different years).
Urusei Yatsura aired for a total of 195 episodes, and more often than not, the episodes were consistent in quality. With the announcement of David Production‘s new four-cour (that’s four continuous seasons of the series) re-adaptation of the manga, criticism has come their way. David Pro is a relatively medium-sized studio, but they’ve only got a hundred or so employees, and they’ve got about 6 production lines– which get hardly any breathing time, and are being produced a bit too quickly, which causes mistakes in animation to occur much more frequently. A very recent example is the criticism of the animation quality for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean. In other words, longer series are much more susceptible to scheduling issues.
So, why is a full-year four-cour anime bad, exactly? The reason is because the staff can’t handle that level of work without drastic measures being taken, which even then might not help the series at all, and it shows why split-cour anime are becoming much more common.
Split-cour anime allow studios to have some breather time and get back on schedule when a single cour of anime already is kicking them in. To circle back to my previous examples, WIT Studio had a very hard time producing Attack on Titan, and to mitigate the effects of a two-cour anime destroying their production, they split it into two parts. Now, the final part of WIT’s Attack on Titan did still suffer from production issues but splitting the season into two parts was much easier on the staff and helped maintain the quality immensely. It’s the difference between the series looking like it had some spots of rough production, and the entire series looking like it was a rough production.
Even then, however, split-cours don’t always work. 86: Eighty-Six is a recent example of the staff not having the time they need to make a series even though the season is a split-cour. They had some phenomenal staff who were very passionate and ambitious about their work, but there’s a problem: they’re not a particularly large team, and they didn’t get proper scheduling placed on them by the production committee. So, while they were allowed to split the season, the latter half eventually started to fall apart because of that schedule not working to their advantage.
So, to answer the question as to why split-cour anime are popular now: it’s because they’re much more stable productions than two-cour anime tend to be, and even then, calling them “stable” is sometimes a huge stretch. A two-cour anime, in order to be successful, needs a powerful team with a good schedule. Notably, David Production‘s Fire Force had good scheduling and a powerful team for not just one, but both seasons, and lead to incredible results, and a very stable production.
But that’s rare, and the unfortunate reality of the industry is that it can be cruel, and it most definitely is, to its creators.
Hope exists, though, where the fruits of passion blossom.
Featured image: 86: Eighty-Six, ©2020 安里アサト/KADOKAWA/Project-86