Why I prefer the Japanese cartoon series paradigm
I was looking at Inspector Gadget just now. It had two seasons. Season 1 had 65 episodes. Season 2 had 21. How does this work? Why such different numbers? Well, they just kept making episodes until the series stopped being profitable. That’s the thing about American cartoon series. You set up the heroes, you set up the villains, you set up the ultimate goal — the heroes defeat the villains — and then you just proceed to make episodes for however many years until the series ceases to be profitable, and wears out its welcome. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in many ways the quintessential example. The series ran from 1987 to 1996 and had 194 episodes total. They establish the heroes: the Turtles; they establish the villains: Shredder, Krang, Rocksteady & Bebop; they establish the goal: you already know; and then they just make episodes until people stop watching. When you set up some heroes and some villains, there should be tension over whether the heroes are ever going to actually defeat the villains. But with a show like this, there’s no tension, because you know they’re just gonna keep making episodes indefinitely. You just get frustrated that they’re gonna tease it out for eternity. Actually, in this show, they actually did manage to resolve the conflict. The Turtles actually did defeat Shredder, Krang, et al in Season 8. But that was 7 years after the series began. By then, a lot of people didn’t care anymore. And the show went on. They got some new villains and kept going for 2 more seasons. And surprisingly, they defeated the new villains, too. But the series ran for 9 years and swelled to 194 episodes. And by the time they canceled it, people were tired of it. They’d just had enough. And that’s the norm with American cartoons. They make them with no planned end. They just keep going for as long as they can grab cash.
This is why I prefer the Japanese paradigm. A series there is commonly 26 episodes long: 2 seasons. Sometimes you get a 1-season show of 13 episodes. Sometimes you get a longer series that has some odd number of episodes. Sometimes you get an unholy behemoth like Ranma 1/2, with 161 episodes plus movies and a 13-episode OVA, or Inuyasha, with 167 episodes plus movies and a 26-episode follow-up series. But usually, you have a tight 13- or 26-episode series. Why? Because they bloody well plan it out ahead of time. They say, “We’ve gotta go from here to here, and we have this many episodes to do it.” They keep it reasonable. When was the last time an American series did that? Ok, I’m sure there are examples, so go ahead and list them.