I have a confession to make.
I didn’t just wake up one day with an insatiable desire to review Metal Fighter Miku. I was actually working on a review of Hidamari Sketch, for which I’d recently bought the “Perfect” collection. I binged the first 2 seasons and had a darn good time. Then I arrived at season 3 out of 4, and the show took a nosedive in quality. After some episodes, I called it quits. I really couldn’t arse myself to be disappointed by yet another Akiyuki Shinbo anime burdened with overextension.
There was a time when Shinbo was just another anime director. He worked on cool OVAs like Suddenly Princess and Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, as well as normal anime TV series like Paniponi Dash and the first season of Lyrical Nanoha. Then he rolled the magic D20 of Destiny and fate decided he’d become Studio Shaft’s star director, ushering in a new era of arthouse anime for the company.
Since then Shinbo’s career has been a chain of mindblowing original works and prominent adaptations of manga & novels nobody else would dare touch. Monogatari, Hidamari Sketch, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and Madoka Magica all carry his stylistic mark. All of them also became (cult) hits within the anime community. However, these series then began to accrue sequels which often watered down the appeals of the original.
Hidamari Sketch is a perfect example of the overextension problem. Its first two seasons are fascinating, artistic anime that utilize Shinbo’s penchant for surrealism to great effect. Not only are these seasons beautiful to look at, their plot also hooks you in with its non-linear format. It covers roughly a year of events, but the order is entirely achronological. Season 1 and 2 constantly intertwine in baffling ways, making it feel like this slice-of-life anime is an intricately planned-out puzzle for the audience to stitch together.
Then season 3 hits and the directing becomes utterly plain. You still get Ume Aoki‘s stellar character design, but there are few surreal visuals to enjoy, nor anything to replace them with. The story also moves on from the interwoven setting of the first 2 seasons and becomes a largely linear affair, with barely any surprises sprinkled throughout. Effectively, Hidamari Sketch just becomes a generic slice-of-life anime about high school students, of which we have countless alternatives to pick from.
This mirrors problems with overextension that I experienced in other Shaft anime. Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei also lost its way and fell into stagnation. Even Monogatari got boring in places, with the series ending on the especially dull Zoku chapters.
I realize that overextension isn’t wholly the fault of Shaft or Shinbo, as these are all anime adapted from source material. But look towards Madoka Magica for a moment. A hit anime in its own right and a personal favorite of mine, which was promptly expanded upon with a slew of mediocre manga, a movie trilogy with mixed receptions, and now a spin-off anime that is itself getting sequels.
Anime is a business and business sense dictates that you make more of a thing that is selling well. Still, it pains me to see how many anime, manga, and light novels keep hammering away on series even as the drive and inspiration for them runs dry. We often complained about anime that ended while there was still source material left to adapt back in the day. Nowadays I’d rather get an anime-original ending while the show is still enjoyable than watch a series deteriorate for a hundred chapters while losing everything that made it special.
Please God stop making more fucking Overlord already.