The Curious Case of Short-Form Anime
Normally one of the biggest things that stands out about anime when one thinks about it is sweeping large-scale narrative of a type that, until recent decades, has been harder to find in mainstream Western animation. But in reality, anime is a very diverse breed, and today I’d like to dedicate a little time to examining a different and in my mind highly interesting subset that we have been seeing more and more of lately: short-form anime.
In the simplest terms, short-form anime are series with very short episode lengths; unlike the usual 22-24 minute episodes, short-form can run from 15 minutes to as little as 2 minutes per episode, and as such they will often be presented more as a series of vignettes loosely connected by the cast of characters, or as a very basic story-line made up of such vignettes or even individual scenes. Quite a few are adaptations of manga, particularly 4-koma strips as these lend themselves easily to a short episode length; others are spinoffs of existing anime or live-action franchises. A more meta concept are the likes of Studio Trigger’s Space Patrol Luluco, which is set in the connected universe of the studio’s other properties, acting as a kind of whistle-stop tour of various Trigger worlds, including another of their short-form series Inferno Cop, yet it has its own individual story.
The subject matter of short-form shows can vary widely, but the vast majority of them are firmly planted in the comedy genre and can range from general jokes and funny situations to madcap screwball antics delivered at a machine-gun pace. Speaking personally I’m not so fond of the latter; the Japanese comedy trope of delivering lukewarm comedy dialogue at a pace that is almost too fast for subtitles to keep up with is something that I’m simply not grabbed by, and thus shows like Teekyu tend to lose me very quickly.
For me what appeals to me the most about short-form is the wide breadth of unusual concepts that likely wouldn’t be able to stand up in a full-length anime production. Orenchi no Furo Jijō explores the daily trials of a young man who has a needy merman living in his bathtub, Bananya is a hidden camera documentary about tiny cats living in banana skins, and Please Tell Me Galko-chan features a trio of high-school girls discussing… feminine biology (but seriously, watch Galko-chan, it’s a great show). And if surreal situations aren’t really your thing there are always simpler concept anime like Bonjour Sweet Love Patisserie (a recommendation from my partner who often prefers her anime more on the sensible side) or the classic high school slice-of-life show Azumanga Daioh! which, while released as compiled full-length episodes in the west, was originally broadcast as short segments in keeping with the original 4-koma and can easily be watched in its individual parts if you so wish.
Since I’ve started keeping a finger on the pulse of the current anime scene in the last year I have begun to develop a fondness for short-form as a concept. As a Western fan watching a lot of these shows after their original air-dates and thus having access to an entire series at once, the short, sharp bursts of fun are great ways to kill a few minutes, and their brevity even allows you to watch a little anime on the go without worrying too much about losing track of time if you need to be somewhere; I once found an odd sense of amusement from watching Galko-chan in a Subway on my lunch break! Before bed, on public transport, while waiting for friends or family to arrive, the opportunities to get in a quick blast of anime are everywhere, and short-form shows are ready and waiting to fill in these little voids. I highly recommend that you check some out, after all, it won’t take you very long!