Well all know them. The popular anime series that continue running for hundreds and hundreds of episodes due to the popularity of the series. Perhaps the creators intended for such shows to be shorter but as the series grew more and more popular, they had to cater to the needs of the public. And what the public wanted was more of the series. Or perhaps the plan was to have an ongoing series from the beginning.
These shows tend to be guilty pleasures for a lot of us. We all know someone who’s a large fan of Bleach, Naruto (I lump Shipudden and Shounen Hen in this group), or One Piece. We get hooked on these series early, become invested in the characters, and put in considerable time following it that perhaps we feel that we must finish the series…or at the least follow it as long as we can until we completely tire of it.
My guilty pleasure series is Detective Conan, a 617+ episode series about a high school detective (Shinichi Kudo) who is poisoned while spying on two men in black. The poison backfires however and the result is that he is turned into a child and uses the alias “Conan Edogawa” so that no one (including his friends) can figure out his real identity. Though along the way a few people end up finding out and of course his family find out. As this post’s purpose isn’t to review the series in full, I don’t need to write a full description. I’m just using this particular series as an example to show the problems that can happen with a long running series.
Detective Conan started off on at a rather steady pace. And for the first 50 or so episodes, you can visually see the story going somewhere. The basic gist of the story is that “Conan” (Shinichi) continues to solve various crimes in hopes that he picks up clues about the “Black Organization” and their drug, APTX 4869. It’s a rather straightforward plot. But the main issue is that the series continuously veers further and further away from the plot in order to drag the show on and on. The smartest decisions they’ve made are to strategically insert nibbles of actual plot into the series when the series begins to veer too far away from the plot. This keeps the audience interested by reminding them that they haven’t forgotten about the main plot. It just takes a bit of time to get there. The other smart decision is to insert something unique and interesting such as the London Arc or the recent insertion of a new detective named Sera into the manga. This reminds the audience that the story can still be eye catching and interesting even when the main plot seems so far away. Not to mention the addition of Sera spiced things up quite a bit. As she’s a sudden addition and I want to know how her character will progress in further chapters.
But there is a grave downside to this as well. While inserting nibbles of actual plot into the series is a great idea, the mistake with Detective Conan is when they do insert actual plot into the series, they quickly yank it away within a few episodes. Right when you think the show might be going somewhere, it doesn’t. Doing it a time or two is fine. Just so long as it actually fulfill what it sets out to do. But after 617 episodes, nothing has still happened. They haven’t gotten any closer to defeating the Black Organization. They haven’t gotten very many clues on the experimental drug. Nor are they any closer to restoring Shinichi’s body to normal. In fact, many of times I completely forget that Conan is Shinichi. If you can delete a good majority of the series and leave just the parts that contain details that pertain to the plot, it’s a good sign that most of the series is unneeded. Granted that would mean cutting some fun cases, but I would rather have the show (and manga too) continue to follow a plot rather than having cases that have no purpose.
I’m no storyteller. In fact, writing stories is a weak point for me. And I understand that writing long stories is easier than writing short ones. It might be a normal thing for storytellers to write long stories in the beginning. But part of the story writing process is cutting and editing out unnecessary details. Getting rid of the parts that do not help further the plot. And somehow this editing process was forgotten.
The public always knows what they want. And the media should take into consideration what the public does want. If they don’t, then their show, comic, song, etc. won’t be a success. But don’t forget the integrity of the story in the process. Don’t sacrifice what’s good to appease people. If you have a good product, you will find an audience for it. And just because a product has a large audience doesn’t always mean the product is good. There’s nothing wrong with having a longer series. But if you find that the show you’re making is more “filler” than plot, perhaps you should take a better look at your scripts and see if there’s anything your show can do without.