Fun With Numbers: Explaining Why Popular Anime Don’t Get Sequels

There are few things more frustrating than loving an anime that has room to grow as a story, but never gets beyond one season of material. It’s arguably even more of an irritance when you know the second season would easily pay for itself. Fortunately, it’s very rare for popular anime to not get sequels (happens only about 20% of the time), and there are ways to predict which ones those will be. I like to think knowing softens the heartbreak.

Recently, I’ve been refining the list of anime which got sequels that I used for my column on the effects of licenses on anime getting sequels. Not to say that the original list was particularly off, but I’ve been reorganizing it in a way that makes it easier to make a smooth curve, en route to hopefully being eventually able to calculate the probability a given work will get a sequel just by plugging numbers into a formula. It’s not revolutionary work (it’s pretty obvious that anime that sell more discs are more likely to get sequels in general), but a lot of interesting data has fallen out of it. The biggest items of interest are the extreme outliers. Not only are these interesting to examine in their own right, but by examining them and drawing the right conclusions, I can add conditions and reduce my uncertainties significantly when I get to the point of being able to turn this into a formula. There are two primary categories of outliers; the commercial failures that still got sequels, and the commercial successes that didn’t get any. Today, I’m covering the latter category.

Below is the total list of 15 anime from 2005-2012 which got only one season, with no subsequent movie, despite selling more than 10,000 discs per volume:

Air
Angel Beats
Death Note
Durarara
Girls und Panzer
Inu x Boku SS
Kannagi
Kanon (2006)
Lucky Star
Mushishi
Persona 4
Suzumiya Haruhi-chan
Sword Art Online
Tari Tari*
Toradora

All but one of these series can be categorized into 3 principle groups, each offering a plausible explanation as to why a sequel hasn’t been made to date.

Group 1: Bigger Fish To Fry (9 shows)

Air
Angel Beats
Inu x Boku SS
Kannagi
Kanon (2006)
Lucky Star
Suzumiya Haruhi-chan
Sword Art Online
Tari Tari

These are anime made by studios that regularly churn out original 10k+ hits. Three studios working in this group (PA Works, A-1 Pictures, Kyoto Animation) have numerous major hits to their credit, and the fourth, David Production, got contracted to do bigger hit JJBA less than 3 months after Inu x Boku SS, tying the studio up for what now appears to be forever. The logic behind this category is simple; a studio with less-than-robust finances is going to take any financial safety it can grab a solid hold of, but those that make a habit of making original blockbusters don’t need to be dependent on one and can still be wildly successful without milking every show to the last drop.

This gets really interesting in Kyoto Animation’s case, where they’ve been perfectly willing to let the golden geese like Air, Kanon, Lucky Star, and the Haruhi-chan 4-koma (to a lesser extent) lie prior to hitting some significant commercial stumbling blocks in Nichijou and Tamako Market. Since Nichijou aired in 2011, both of their works to top 10,000 average per volume sales (Chuunibyou and Free) have gotten sequels. That’s a fairly small sample size, but it hints that they have adjusted their policies, becoming a bit more conservative in response to the lower sales totals of their weaker shows.

Group 2: No More Source Material (3 shows)

Death Note
Persona 4
Toradora

These are anime that faithfully followed their source material, to the extent that they ended with nothing left in the tank to adapt for a second season. This hasn’t always stopped studios (see OLM and To Heart for an example of this happening as a pure, unadulterated ass pull), but it generally is something of a deterrent.

Group 3: Recently Made/Continuing Source Material (2 shows)

Durarara
Girls und Panzer

This is the group for things that are still significantly too close to call dead. Durarara was made by Brains Base, which to be fair has a lot of other profitable ventures to its credit. The reason it’s not Group 1 is that I don’t think milking another cow to death would give qualms to the studio that squeezed 4 seasons out of Natsume Yuujinchou and has a very spotty sales history outside of it. I attribute this to the fact that there may well not be enough novel to adapt a full 2-cour season, and they may still be waiting on that to adapt. Girls und Panzer is just barely a year old, and Actas doesn’t have a particularly star-studded history that would indicate they’re comfortable with just rolling the dice next time around. I very much doubt it will be in this list in another 2 years time.

Group 4: You Tell Me (1 show)

Mushishi

If there is any logic behind this non-move, I don’t see it. Artland didn’t make those kind of mad profits with basically anything after this point, Hiroshi Nagahama didn’t helm another anime for 4 years afterwards, and there’s enough source material for another 25 episodes at the pace the series was being adapted. My best guess would be a Kare Kano-tier beef from either the mangaka or someone else high up in management that made a season 2 impossible.

Long story short: if a anime has commercial success locked up, still has source material left to adapt, and isn’t made by a perpetual heavyweight studio, then it’s almost guaranteed to get a sequel. Only almost, though, because sometimes things happen that are beyond the scope of conventional explanation. It pays to remember the prime law of statistics; you’re never 100% sure.

*I have Tari Tari logged as a 10k+ seller in my database, though the final total was closer to 9k, because not all volumes were out when I entered the data. It’s still generally applicable, as it’s still a huge success numbers-wise.

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6 thoughts on “Fun With Numbers: Explaining Why Popular Anime Don’t Get Sequels

  1. Totally with you at group 3. Great post. I don’t really pay attention to the sales and stuff so this was interesting. Any chance that you will be posting your thoughts on the commerical failures that got sequels?

    I think there’s a movie for Haruhi and well, if there’s no anime sequel it might be because someone’s making a live action version of it.

    • I have the data on commercial failure sequels. Currently, it does seem like most of them fit into groups, albiet very different ones from the successes. That post should be going up over the weekend after I figure out exactly what happened with the weirdest case in the bunch.

      The Haruhi Suzumiya series does have sequels, both the movie and the infamous endless eight second season. I was specifically counting the ONA shorts, which still sold a mind-bogglingly high total. It was a borderline case, but I decided to include it because Haruhi-chan’s 14,600 volume total is kind of a record for short anime and Teekyu got a sequel while selling much less.

  2. Pingback: Fun With Numbers: Explaining Why Unpopular Anime Get Sequels | Animetics

  3. Labelling the KyoAni shows as ‘bigger fish to fry’ doesn’t really tell the full story. The success of Air is probably what led to Kanon and from there to Clannad. A spiritual successor rather than left alone. Why they sorta stopped there is more down to KyoAni wanting more direct control of their works. The reason Free and Chuunibyou get sequels is because they’re owned by their own publishing house. Also K-ON. I don’t have any actual evidence to back this claim up, but since it was a totally obscure 4-koma before the anime, I’m guessing KyoAni had more creative control over that property and that was the point they thought “hey, this is way better, let’s not do them Key games anymore”. So yes, it’s bigger fish to fry, but bigger fish being a company going through a rather big shift in focus. This is also, from what I gather, the big reason why we will never get a Full Metal Panic sequel.

    Also Sword Art Online should really be in the recently made category because if that doesn’t get a sequel I’ll eat my own face. Durarara on the other hand is becoming an increasingly big mystery to me. It’s been 4 years damnit!

    • While it is true that Key adapatations in recent years have been handled by other studios. There are 2 main issues I have with the assertion that KyoAni purely going through a sea change/change of heart. 1) Why didn’t it happen after Lucky Star? They clearly had creative control on that project, and it actually performed notably better than any of their Key adaptations. But after that, they made not one but two seasons of Clannad. So the timeline for that theory is a bit sketchy. 2) Even if they did enjoy working on K-on more, they likely would not have continued working on their own farm system projects if they had bombed the way Tamako Market/Nichijou had. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assert that they would have been perfectly willing to make a Kanon movie for cash circa 2010 if K-on had put up dogfood numbers like Nichijou and Munto. If you have interviews or something to back that up, I’d bite, but I don’t buy the narrative when it’s based solely on their production schedule.

      The primary reason we’re not getting a FMP sequel is because TSR (~5000 per volume) sold slightly better than Tamako Market (~4000). That margin of profit isn’t going to fly when you can put out a 20k hit 50-60% of the time like KyoAni has shown the ability to do.

      I agree that an SAO sequel is still possible, but it’s been over a year since the original airing, and to my knowledge no new anime has been greenlit. About 70% of anime that got sequels over the 2005-2012 period had them greenlit within a year. The anime that sold over 10k per volume, didn’t have a sequel greenlit at this point, and eventually got one occupy a short list, populated mainly by studios taking their time (Shaft working on Madoka in-between Monogatari seasons) and odd cases like Gonzo Bankruptcy Strike Witches. It was a borderline case while I was making the list; the fact that it had the source material there already for sure and it didn’t sell that much more than Angel Beats (the difference is ~35k to ~34k), the next-best-selling example made me lean towards category 1. To be fair, I probably should have said that in the article.

      Durarara was also kind of borderline; I was considering whether to put it in cat 1 because Brains Base had the Natsume sequels over the same time period, but I also heard it basically exhausted the currently available source material in season 1, and still having running source material means a lot. Victorian Romance Emma’s second season and its overlap with the ending of the manga is a particular case that struck me when I was looking into this.

  4. Pingback: Fun With Numbers: The Anime Sequel Probability Equation (Alpha) | Animetics

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