Warning: This post contains spoilers for Hunter x Hunter (2011) and Naruto. If for any reason you don’t want these shows spoiled for you, I advise you refrain from reading. You’ve been warned!
I’m going to start this post out, with a statement that, given my preferences for Shounen titles, will probably surprise no one:
I love long running Anime series.
As someone who constantly complains about not having as much time as they’d like to consume Anime, that statement, while predictable based on my tastes, may seem a little odd. After all, I’ve said in the past that my biggest problem with long running Anime series is the large time investment required of them to make them worthwhile, which is something I can rarely afford to do as a result of working a full time job and having other real world responsibilities to uphold.
However, in spite of that, I also feel that this large time investment can wind up contributing to what I believe to be the biggest strength of a long running series: The lasting connection that the audience feels towards its narrative and characters.
While many short series have some excellent character development in the span of 12 or 24 episodes, I feel that the character arcs presented in long running series can often be some of the most compelling, emotionally satisfying and well written character focused stories in the medium. And this is mostly as a result of the lengthy nature of the series.
For example, in a series in the vein of Naruto, where the main character is presented as an underdog who is ridiculed by those around them and who wants to prove to their peers that they are worth something and have to work hard to achieve their goal of doing so, we spend a lot of time with said character. We get to see them grow over the course of a several hundred episodes, with very little in the way of timeskips and blank spaces. We spend time with these characters and we connect to them on a very deep and personal level. We get to see them grow at a natural, in depth rate, something that the average short series rarely gets the time or opportunity to do due to its short length.
Of course, there are plenty of long series that are long for the sake of being long, and often drag things out to ridiculous lengths (lookin’ at you, Bleach), but the best long running series tend to use their time wisely and take every opportunity to ensure that their lengthy runtime is justified.
One of the reasons myself, and many others, consider Hunter x Hunter (2011) to be such a fantastic Anime series, is that despite it being 148 episodes in length, every single episode and individual moment of the series, outside of the two recap episodes, is completely necessary in the grand scheme of things. There is no filler. There is no content that “could be cut”. There are no “irrelevant” moments. Every small part of the narrative is devoted to building towards something bigger in the overall narrative and every minor character interaction is relevant to the greater story of the involved character’s in some way.
Using the friendship between Gon and Killua from Hunter x Hunter (2011) as an example, the fact that we see them together as best friends over the course of such a lengthy series is what makes their friendship feel so genuine and real. They feel like actual friends who have been through so many different experiences, good and bad, together which makes the second last episode of the series so god damn heartbreaking when they decide to part ways to pursue their own dreams, separately.
The same applies to a series, such as Naruto, where Naruto spends the entire series working hard to achieve his dream of becoming the Hokage. When he finally does become the Hokage, it feels earned and the result of over 500 episodes of hard work feels as though it has finally paid off. We’ve watched Naruto struggle to earn his acknowledgement for literally years and finally seeing him be acknowledged for his dedication towards becoming the greatest, is simply an amazing and gratifying feeling.
No short form series, no matter how well written, or how many things it manages to pack into its 12 or 24 episodes, could ever even hope to achieve the same effect that Hunter x Hunter (2011) and Naruto did in those specific moments. They were the result of hundreds of episodes, and days worth of hours, of character chemistry and long form emotional connection to said characters and their story.
Jumping into a long running series can often be a daunting experience, and it requires an insane time commitment, especially when said series can take the length of an entire short series to “get going” and you’ve jumped on board “really late” into its run.
But if you can some how find the time, and overcome the hurdle of “it’s too long” or “it’s taking forever to start up” you’ll often find yourself rewarded with some insanely gratifying storytelling that is the result of a long form emotional connection.
The time investment, more often than not, can be absolutely worth it. And I say that as someone who has nowhere near as much time to do things as he’d like to.
Being in it for the long haul can be worth it.
What are your thoughts on long running Anime series?