Ask John: Why are Some Anime Broadcast so Late at Night?

Question:
I was wondering why so many anime shows air so late at night in Japan. I just read that Ken Akamatsu’s new show is premiering at something like 2:30 AM, and I know Hack Sign is on at around 1:45 AM. There are lots of examples like this and I have to wonder where the logic is. Do people really stay up that late to watch these shows?

Answer:
The concept of late night anime started back in 1996 with the premier of Elf wo Karu Monotachi (Those Who Hunt Elves) on the then new satellite television network WOWOW. Nearly all of the early late night programs were half-season 12 or 13 episode series like Eatman, and Don’t Leave Me Alone Daisy. These series were never expected to earn tremendous ratings, so broadcast late at night when few people would be watching made sense. Especially because Those Who Hunt Elves dealt with characters having to strip elves naked, and because Eatman had such an unusual style, and simply because the entire concept of late night anime was so unusual, back in the late 1990s, especially among American anime fans, these series had somewhat of a poor reputation as adult oriented hentai programs even though, in reality, neither actually contains any nudity or sex. As it became clear that late night time-slots were a viable option for anime, more series with limited commercial potential began to air late at night. Some of these series, such as Berserk and Devilman Lady, were broadcast late at night because they were considered too violent and mature for prime time broadcast. In early 2001, the Anime Complex anthology program created a new spin-off titled Anime Complex Night, specifically designed to air series like Hanaukyo Maid Tai that contained too much nudity and sexual innuendo to be suitable for broadcast in family friendly prime-time hours. Much more often, though, series including Outlaw Star, Betterman, Sister Princess, Noir, Cosmo Warrior Zero, Hyper Police, Tenchi Muyo! GXP and Azumanga Daioh were aired late at night simply because they weren’t considered likely enough to draw high ratings in prime time late afternoon and evening time slots. The programs that air very late at night tend to be tailored toward anime fans, and as a result are among some of the favorite series of American fans. However, these shows that are typically tailored toward die-hard anime fans simply don’t attract the same mainstream family viewers in Japan that make prime time series like Detective Conan, Sazae-san, and One Piece such massive hits.

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