Over the years, even when I just started blogging, I've seen enough people get tired of anime, claiming that anime in the past used to be so much better. I remember that I kindof saw their point, however there were plenty of awesome series to keep me watching. However, after the current state of the season so far, I really do long for the anime of the past, and they seemed so much more diverse.
However, the big trap with these statements is to over-glorify the past. "Yeah, the past used to be so much better, in my days blah blah", so you need to be careful with these kinds of statements: you forget the boring parts and only remember the things that stood out. So because of that I decided to take a good look back at the past winter seasons. I'll rank all of them, but I'll talk about them in chronological order. For each picture, I'll use a picture of the series that turned out to be the best, by the standards I hold today.
Once this season has ended, if I feel motivated enough, I'll also include it in this list.
This was a really bad season. The only remotely good non-sequel show to come out of it was Kotoura-san. It had a very strong first episode for a school series, and managed to keep it up for 1 cour. Beyond that, the obvious stand-out was a sequel: Chihayafuru, which admittedly was just fantastic. AKB0048 unfortunately was not as interesting as I hoped it to be, and Amnesia and Tamako Market had promising first episodes, only to crash down horribly. Apart from that, the school setting was again very prevalent (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Mangirl, Sasami@Ganbaranai). Lots of series looked the same, but there also was some historical fantasy here and there (Maoyuu, The Hakkenden, Senran Kagura). Out of around 31 series, I only found three of them actually worth watching.
This was a season in which suddenly there were three ambitious science fiction series airing at the same time: Rinne no Lagrange, Mouretsu Pirates and Aquarion Evol. Out of those, only Rinne ended up not fulfilling its promise, but still it wasn't bad. On top of that there was a solid horror-series with Another, and three really solid comedies in the form of Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou and the incredibly random second season of Tantei Opera Milky Holmes. Natsume Yuujinchou came with its amazing fourth season that gave a ton of depth into the people around him. So yes, I would say that this was a very good season, with a pretty decent variety as well. Aside from mecha and comedy, there also was slice of life, sports, fantasy and romance. I would call this a very well rounded season.
This season stood out due to three absolutely amazing series: Level E, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Hourou Musuko. All three together covered the entire spectrum: one was a brilliant comedy, another brilliantly deconstructed the mahou shoujo genre, and another was a brilliant look into what it is to be a transgender. These three alone made this season worth watching, and on top of that we also get a pretty decent closure to Kimi ni Todoke, a "so bad it's good"-comedy Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu, and Gosick, an adventure series which started out questionably, but ended beautifully. The downside to this season was that there were a lot of stinkers. Fractale is the most notable for having a wonderful premise, only to completely ignore it, but Yumekui Merry had the same fate: great premise and execution, but just cut off in the middle leaving nothing resolved. Dragon Crisis just went worse as it went along, and Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka also failed to stay funny. Not to mention the epically bad Rio Rainbow Gate, Infinite Stratos and another Oniichan series. A season of huge ups and huge downs.
Oh boy, I remember how this was a stinker when it came along. However, looking back on it, it's not the worst, it's better than the Winter of 2013, however that season was backed up by a very strong Autumn season, while this onewasn't. So we were stuck with Durarara, a series which thankfully had a fantastic first half, only to have a much less interesting second half later on. The one series that stood out was Heartcatch Precure, the series that showed how much you can do with the mahou shoujo formula. Katanagatari also was interesting and fresh with its wordplay, but the problem with these series was that they paid out very slowly: Heartcatch Precure only started in February and had 50 episodes, and Katanagatari only aired once a month. Apart from that there were series that had interesting premises and were nice to watch, but never really were meant for greatness, like Cobra The Animation, a revival of the classic TV-series, and Sora no Oto, which at the very least had a very intriguing setting (really rushed ending though!). However, this also was the season in which the barriers of good taste got lowered significantly: Seikon no Qwaser was pretty much borderline porn. With a measly 17 series total that aired, things did not look good for anime at the time. However, things recovered afterwards.
Winter 2009 was weird. It was stunning, completely stunning. Birdy the Mighty Decode still stands in my top 10 because of it. White Album was incredibly annoying, but ultimately worth it and a unique romance. Ride Back started out rather weird, but it turned out to be a pretty unique mecha series about an adult female who drove this cross between a motorcycle and a robot. Maria-sama ga Miteru surpassed itself, Shikabane Hime was weird, but ultimately awesome to watch, and Hajime no Ippo also completely surpassed itself. It was glorious, and yet there were so many annoyances at the same time with how the Tower of Druaga failed to live up to its hype, Natsume Yuujinchou's second season was not as strong as the first, Koukaku no Regios didn't go anywhere, Kurokami failed to deliver, and Munto turned out to be nothing more than a blatant recap. I also remember complaining about how there were way too many sequels this season. And true, the amount of sequels at the very least has never been as overwhelming as in this season. 2009 was definitely the year with the most conflicting feelings.
This season was one of the best winter seasons ever. The reason was the sheer quantity of amazing series that aired. Porphy no Nagai Tabi is a series that today can not be made: 52 episodes dedicated to a children's novel, coupled with stunning background art. Gunslinger Girl's sequel was very controversial due to the style change, but I loved it. Shigofumi had an awesome concept of a girl who brought back letters from the dead, and True Tears is one of those unique romances in which you never really know what the characters were thinking. Hakaba Kitarou seamlessly combined horror with comedy, Aria the Origination was an amazing conclusion to the Aria franchise and Spice and Wolf was a really intelligent look at medieval economics with excellent characters. THIS. This is what a winter season should be. There was something for everyone, many risks were taken and many series delivered in well thought-out ways. There were a few disappointments, but none of them were really big disappointments. Just a few series that burned out in their second halves (Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei and Sisters of Wellber 2), and the obviously bad series like Rosario to Vampire were in a minority and could be easily avoided.
The 2007 season had much less quantity. However, what it lacked there, it made up for in quality as it premiered two series that would grow out to be absolute classics: Les Miserables and Nodame Cantabile. This definitely was a season for the people into classic literature or music. No other season has ever been able to deliver two of these masterpieces at the same time. If you look at the rest of the season, the you'll see lots of action: generic action series or series about people with powers fighting each other, that never really stood out. Rocket Girls was nice, and Master of Epic also was this unique little comedy series. There also was slice of life, sports. That's the big difference between this season's lackluster series: in 2014, everything looks like each other. In 2007, things were uninteresting, but at least they were different.
This was the first winter season I actively followed. And what a season it turned out to be: Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror, Ergo Proxy and Rescue Wings together. All incredible series, aimed at adults, yet all completely different. Beyond that there was a really solid romance series situated in a hospital with HanTsuki, Magikano was hilarious back when Seiji Kishi was still good. Plus, Nerima Daikon Brothers: an actual animated musical that never got fully subbed, yet was really fun to watch. There may not be as many series here, but here is the thing with this season: all these six series were incredibly well thought out. They had some really interesting ideas and they took their risks, instead of rehashing the most popular thing around. All of these series set out to challenge the status quo and do something never done before. Even Magikano, as its brand of humour was still fresh back then.
Here we get to the point where I haven't seen every series that came out, so my view of this season has also a few impressions here and there. This was an average season, that delivered two really strong short series: Air and Starship Operators. Romance and space opera. Beyond that there was the short comedy Gag Manga Biyori. Beyond that, there's lots of romance, mecha and kiddie shows. I mean things like Mahou Sensei Negima, Peach Girl, Jinki Extend: I saw small fragments of them but none of them really looked like they had potential. This actually reminds me a lot of the season we're currently in.
This is a weird season since there were two utter classics that aired with strange schedules: Ghost in the Shell's second season aired two episodes at the start of each month, and Paranoia Agent started in february. Especially Paranoia Agent was absolutely fantastic in every single way. But yeah, this season absolutely rocked. One of the best action series out there in the form of Jubei-chan 2 also was shown here. That's three completely amazing shows in one winter-season, and the rest of the season, even the not interesting ones, are incredibly varied. There are fanservice series, but plenty of historical ones, there is a comedy, there are series aimed at a young audience, and old audience, plenty of series that took risks and series that just stayed with the status quo. The balance is perfect here.
The top three series this season were all really inspired: The Big O's second season really knew how to play with the mecha genre, Ashita no Nadja was a really creative shoujo adventure that we nowadays never get to see anymore, and Wolf's Rain, although the execution left a bit to be desired here and there, really stood out with how its main cast consisted out of wolves, and I absolutely cannot fault its setting, which was incredibly imaginative. Beyond that though, this was a small season. Most of the other shows were just harmless fluff or just plain bad series. Oh, and Licensed by Royal, which I haven't seen but admittedly does look interesting.
One thing to note is that ten years ago, the seasons were much smaller. This season, ignoring the kiddie shows, had about 16 anime. The best of which was RahXephon, which was an intelligent mecha series, definitely. Also good were the adventure series Patapata Hikousen no Bouken for the younger audience, and Fullmetal Panic, for the older audience. Nothing standout like in previous years though. Kanon also premiered, starting the trend of key adaptations, and Onegai Teacher aired as well. Nothing much stands out, but there are lots of cute girls, along with generic action series in which the enemies are strange supernatural beings.
Here we get to the part where the winter season was pretty much insignificant. The only series that are noteworthy are Arjuna (a nature series, admittedly very creative) and Tales of Eternia. Ojamajo Doremi also had one of its seasons here, but apart from thatthere was hardly anything. That I've seen, at least. The thing is that there are surprisingly many series that feature adults as their protagonists. There are 14 series in total, and while most of them indeed do look uninteresting to me, they don't suffer from the problem of not trying out different things.
Only 9 series aired in total. 9. That's nothing. One series stood out from the bunch: Boogiepop Phantom. Fantastic show if you want to work hard in order to understand a series. Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran was also a very solid period piece. Beyond that though were mostly kiddie shows (we saw Mushrambo and Mon Colle Knights on Dutch TV, actually), but yeah, it's apparent that producers at this age didn't see much into winter seasons, and any series airing there is a mere coincidence. I'll stop my overview here then.
So, what did I conclude from this? Well, globally, these years can be divided into three periods. In the first period, until about 2005: relatively few series were released, and among them were two or three series that really stood out as amazing series, only 2004 had more and falls more in the period that came afterwards. The rest of the series were meh, however they were varied and were different from each other.
The second period is what I'd like to call the golden age of anime. It lasted from 2006 to 2009, including 2004 (and 2011 and 2012, I guess). The season size got much larger, and with that the amount of amazing series also increased. Every season had so many series that worthwhile. There was something for everyone and so many series came up with interesting ideas, rock solid executions. There were meh series, and series that didn't deliver, but even amongst them was enough good stuff and things were varied.
And the third period started in 2010. Globally, things returned to having two or three really standout, really good series, with the rest not really being remarkable. But here's the kicker: as opposed to the first period, the amount of series per season still is huge. There are as many series as in period two, and most likely even more! The result is that while a decade ago, you had the same amount of standout series, this time they're surrounded by heaps and heaps of generic series that on top of that all look the same and don't try to be anything new, different or fresh. You get piles of series that are all trying to fit into the same niche and therefore all just end up watering each other down due to the huge amount of competition.
Because of this, the stakes to stand out get higher, so more money is poured into the animation budget. The financial risk is higher, so in terms of storytelling you can't take many risks either, so people opt for safe scriptwriters and series with interesting ideas are really hard to greenlight. Because of how everything is overcrowded, series that have certain elements in them tend to sell more, so every series needs to have those elements in them in order to also compete for sales. Even the good ones, leading to the excessive amounts of fanservice you see in nearly every show today. I mean, it cannot be a coincidence that Kill la Kill and Space Dandy, the TWO series that set out to try something new and different, both being ended up so crass at the same time.
So yes. I'm not saying anime is dying. I'm saying anime is in dire need of a new business model. The current one is fifteen years old now, and the lack of innovation is starting to hurt. The industry thankfully isn't as far south as the gaming industry is, however something needs to happen. Be bold! Be creative! Screw conventions!