If you have been following the currently airing anime seasons these past few years you may have noticed that since roughly a year ago there has been an increase in a new type of anime: the three-minute anime series. Or, if we are lucky, they may even be five minutes!
Yes, there have been shorter anime series before and naturally there have been countless of OVAs or stand-alone titles that only take up a couple of minutes in total. But there has never been as many airing as there are today and they certainly have not been as popular. I cannot provide an answer as to why we are seeing this new trend, but if I had to take a guess it would be because they are safer to produce due to their shorter lengths. As a result, they do not need to sell as much to guarantee a profit.
What I can say, however, is that most of these anime shorts series are either hit or miss when it comes to actual quality. A common complaint is that they end before you get into their respective “mood” or that their time limit hinders them from evolving into something meaningful. Consequently it can feel like series are repeating the same thing over and over again during their very short run.
Despite only having seen ten or so of these shorter anime series I know what to expect when picking another one up. If it is a comedy it will most likely be horribly bad. Titles such as Recorder to Randoseru, Litchi DE Hikari Club and Ishida to Asakura come to mind. They repeat the same bloody joke ad infinitum with little to variation and are generally really bland in the visual department.
Luckily there are comedy shorts that have succeeded. In only two minutes – including an ending song! – Teekyuu manages to be batshit insane with completely random events and enough dialogue to fill full-length episode. The extreme pacing and randomness, put together with similarly wacky animation, creates an overload of fun in measly two minutes. Plastic Nee-san, Inferno Cop and Senyuu all work in similar fashion, which may be the very reason they are all that great. Thanks to not taking themselves seriously they manage to surprise.
But what else is there besides comedy when it comes to anime shorts? Well… the only thing so far is basically slice of life shorts. To me they have worked a lot better than the comedy counterparts. They do not mainly rely on jokes, but on cute and heartwarming moments, which is far easier to achieve. Plus they usually follow some sort of narrative, even if it only boils down to attending school.
The biggest problem with slice of life shorts is the actual length. Personally, a really good slice of life lulls you into a state of happiness that makes you feel all warm during the whole soothing episode (and perhaps for some time afterwards). This may work well with Aria the Animation, seeing how it has more than twenty minutes to instill this feeling, but not quite as well with Aiura or Yama no Susume, despite being the two shorter anime series I adore the most.
What I am trying to say is the following: how can an anime be short, yet relaxing? It simply cannot work. Of the two series I mentioned Yama no Susume works better as it has an on-going story about the main characters climbing a mountain which at least gives a sense of progression. Aiura, on the other hand, is only about our main gang doing nothing at school or home. It ends just when it is about to get good.
If I had to create an analogy, you could imagine Aria the Animation as eating a whole cake at your own pace, having all the time in the world to enjoy its flavors and texture. But Yama no Susume would be only eating half a cake while barely appreciating its taste and Aiura would be someone taking the cake away from you when you have only eaten a fourth of it. You want to eat more to be satisfied, yet you are not served any and leave with an empty stomach.
These two are titles that would benefit a lot from being longer. If a full-length series is not possible, why not do as Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san and run for half the length? It would work wonderfully as it would guarantee that they would not overstay their welcome. You could say it would be a delicious little dessert after a main course, much like the aforementioned Muromi-san.
On another note, there are certain full-length titles that would work just as well as shorter ones. Nichijou and Daily Lives of High School Boys (Nichibros for short) are built up around multiple sketches put together to a longer episode. For instance, Nichibros even had pre-airs that lasted for five minutes and that still worked extremely well. And it never becomes old to re-watch clips from Nichijou on Youtube.
In fact, I even dare to say Kill Me Baby and Shirokuma Cafe would work better if they were shorter, as they both were painfully slow and had fairly repetitive natures.
But to answer the question I asked in the title of this post. Are anime shorts series actually worth your time? For the most part the answer is a definitive “no”. Most usually suck and lack finesse, especially if we are talking about comedies. But at the same time we are only talking about a handful of minutes wasted if you want to give one a try. Besides, the ones that are great can stand up to any full-length anime.
You only need to find the shining gems buried beneath all the trash.