As most of you know, the volume of anime has spiked up immensely in the last 20 years. In 1999, there were around 70 TV anime; some 30 anime movies, and another 30 OVAs – a total of about 133 anime series (including OVAs of TV franchises and so on). By 2019 that number had almost doubled, over 240 anime titles were releasd that year. And in 2019, we’re at about 223 announced and released so far— we’ll almost certainly exceed 2009 by the year’s end. (There were just shy of 300 anime TV, OVA, and movie releases in 2018.)
Some (but not all!) of that is accounted for in the length of TV anime series. Setting aside longer outliers like One Piece, Naruto, even Sailor Moon and DBZ, most shows in 1999 were still more in the 24-26 episode range rather than the more popular 11-12 episode range of 2009’s and today’s anime world. That’s largely because it mitigates risk—if you put up the money to make 12 episodes and it’s a hit, you can make more. If you put up the money to make 26 and it flops, you can’t go back in time and make less. So from a business perspective, it’s a lower risk with relatively little downside.
From a fan perspective it means you get a more repetition and variation on the same themes. (Think: isekai/”I get transported into a video game-like world,” groups of 4+ cute girls passionately engaging in a hobby, and right now we’re seeing a slight surge of darker-themed fantasy shows like Yakusoku no Neverland, Shield Hero, Fairy Gone, etc. I suspect it’s both a counter-reaction to all the isekai and riding coattails from Attack on Titan.)
You may also notice the numbers of OVAs shifting differently than you’d expect; we tend to think of the ’90s as the pinnacle of OVAs! There were a lot more earlier in the ’90s (1992 saw about 70 OVA releases). But there’s a qualitative difference in these OVAs; many ’90s OVAs were intended to be high-quality, often standalone stories. Think more like today’s prestige TV series, but shorter. By 2009, OVAs were often additional bonus episodes for a home video release to entice buyers, usually filler, side stories, or various sorts of fan service. And in 2019, they’re either bonus Blu-ray features or they’re packed in with manga releases to drive sales of the original material—usually cheaply made in either case. (There are, of course, exceptions.)
Stay tuned for part 2: Distribution and part 3: fandom!