Inconsistent Episode Quality in Anime
What I have been finding surprisingly rare is anime series that are consistently good for the length of their run. Typically, what happens in series is that they jump the shark after a certain episode. More often than not, it’s the result of the studio having overspent its budget for the series, so their sole concern is to end the series, regardless of the consequences. In other cases, series have weak beginnings only to pick up after a certain episode.
An interesting example is one of my all time favorite anime series, Rurouni Kenshin. The first third of the series was amusing, but not particularly special. This chunk of the series served primarily to introduce Kenshin and the rest of the cast. Most of the episodes were “Monster of the Week” where villains rarely survived beyond one or two episodes.
However, RuroKen really reached its peak in the Legend of Kyoto arc. This part of the series was about Kenshin fighting Shishio Makoto, another manslayer from Kenshin’s past who sought to take Japan over for himself. Despite still having ample comic relief, the Legend of Kyoto arc was noticeably darker than what preceded it. The body count had dramatically increased from the beginning. Furthermore, while Shishio was very unquestionably evil, somehow his motives made perfect sense. As far as he was concerned, he was getting back at the very government that used him and tried to have him murdered as soon as he outlived his usefulness.
Due to the scale of Shishio’s plot, Kenshin couldn’t simply defeat him in one duel like he did with past villains like Jin-E or Hiruma Gohei. Thus, it led to an entire season of episodes that gave some long overdue development not only to Kenshin and his comrades, but a lot of the setting as more and more of the dark sides of the Meiji government were revealed.
Rurouni Kenshin’s quality took a nosedive at the conclusion of the Shishio saga. Here, the problem was the series caught up to the manga, so the writers just started banging out filler episodes while manga-ka Watsuki Nobuhiro went about writing the Jinchu arc. Ultimately, filler was exactly what was the rest of the series, and fans didn’t get to see Watsuki’s later manga chapters in animated form until the Tsuiokuhen and Seisohen (known in the US as “Trust and Betrayal” and “Reflection” respectively) OVAs came out. I think with Tsuiokuhen, it was a worthwhile wait. But Seisohen tried to be the Sparknotes version of the series up until the end of the Shishio arc with all of Jinchu crammed into the thirty-minute long part 2, much to Watsuki’s chagrin. Thus Enishi’s story will probably never get a proper anime adaptation unless it is done so in the rumored new RuroKen series.
On the other hand, Noir had one of the best endings I have seen in an anime series, and in general the latter half of the show was excellent. However, the beginning was just a little bit on the tedious side with plenty of filler. Things didn’t really get rolling until about episode 8 or so.
A much more extreme example was You’re Under Arrest: Full Throttle. The last episode of the series (excluding the special included with the DVD) was a special where Aoi and Yoriko tried to emulate Miyuki and Natsumi, and met with hilarious results. It may have been because the preceding episodes, which involved chasing a vigilante race driver, were so lackluster, but I felt that this last episode actually very much outshined the rest of Full Throttle. This episode, which was more or less a parody of YUA! as a whole, made it seem like the writers suddenly remembered what YUA! was all about: pure, character-driven comedy. That was something the rest of this season was not with its weak attempts at drama. Despite the fact that many of the episode plots felt recycled from season 1, I can see why I enjoyed season 2 a lot more than I did Full Throttle.
To be fair, Full Throttle was relatively consistent in quality up until the last episode. While the first season of YUA! was by and far the best one, its shear length of 51 episodes made it so every so often, a pretty weak episode cropped up. However, said episodes were relatively sporadic.
Off the top of my head, the only two series I can come up with that were consistently good for the length of their runs are Vision of Escaflowne (1996) and Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), where every one of their episodes were relevant to their respective stories. I think that may be it: series may be more consistent as soon as you remove the opportunity for filler, as was the case in Rurouni Kenshin. Furthermore, as YUA! is a slice-of-life episodic anime, you can probably say the entire series is filler.