Ask John: Have Any Anime Ever Been Canceled?

I was just thinking about how many new sitcoms on American tv often don’t last two weeks, and I wondered, does this apply to anime too? In Japan, has there ever been a series that had such bad ratings that it was axed before it finished up?

It’s very rare for an anime TV series to get canceled partially because most anime TV series are not scheduled to run for extended broadcast lengths to begin with, and most anime TV series are not expected to draw staggering percentages of viewers. For example, late night anime TV series like Outlaw Star, Vampire Miyu and Berserk are created and broadcast knowing in advance that they will probably earn ratings of only 1% or 2% of the total number of viewers watching television during the half-hour these shows are broadcast. Most of the anime TV series that may seem to fans as though they were canceled early, in fact, were not. Prime examples include the seemingly unresolved conclusions of TV series such as Flame of Recca, Berserk and The Big O, and OAV series such as Angel Sanctuary. While these shows may seem like they were canceled early, they in fact did have as many episodes as they were scheduled to have from the very beginning of production.

There are a handful of surprising examples of anime TV series that were canceled early, though, and shows that were in danger of being canceled. According to popular rumor, the original Lupin III TV series from 1971 was canceled after only 23 episodes because viewers were not interested in the dramatic, serious and hard boiled tone of the series. Lupin was revived in 1977 as a successful 155 episode long TV series that had a much lighter and more comical tone and atmosphere. The equally classic Mobile Suit Gundam TV series from 1979 was canceled after episode 43 of its scheduled 52 episodes, again due to poor ratings. Intense demand from a small but very vocal group of die-hard fans got the franchise revived as a trilogy of feature length films and, in 1985, the Mobile Suit Z Gundam TV series. The same thing happened to the 1985 Dirty Pair TV series. The final 2 TV episodes were never broadcast but were eventually released as OAV episodes due to die-hard fan demand and the unanticipated success of the Dirty Pair motion picture. The only other anime TV series I know of to have been canceled is Gundam X, which was put to sleep after struggling through 39 episodes and steadily plummeting ratings.

Dragonball GT, Sailormoon and Rurouni Kenshin all narrowly avoided cancellation. All of these were long shows that, by their conclusion, had lost much of their originality and had lost many of their viewers to waning interest and the draw of newer shows. The ratings for Sailormoon, while still relatively good by the end of the series, had been in steady decline for months, and Toei decided to end the series before allowing it to die a lingering death of attrition. Without the involvement or writing of Akira Toriyama, Dragonball GT likewise quickly began losing fan interest and support. Toei wanted to end the series relatively quickly, but was obligated to create new, off-the-cuff sagas to prolong the series in order for Dragonball GT to still be on the air when Bandai released its Playstation Dragonball: Final Bout video game. Likewise, Studio Gallop planed to conclude the Rurouni Kenshin TV series after the Shishio/Kyoto storyline because the animation had virtually caught up to the manga. The animators had even completed a final TV episode. However, seeking to milk whatever ratings and money could still be had from the show, Fuji TV convinced Studio Gallop to invent a new “Christian saga” and continue the Rurouni Kenshin TV series for another 20 episodes before it was apparent to all involved that the TV animation had passed its prime. The unaired “final” episode was eventually released directly to home video and became known to fans as the “lost” episode 95.


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