The most hardcore anime fans, such as many regular posters on Anime Suki, usually have a pretty good idea of which animes will be successful, in the sense of ratings, DVD/Blu-Ray sales, and related merchandise sales. They keep persistent track of which animes will be coming up in the following season, which animation studios will be handling each of them, how popular the source material (if there is one) for the various animes are, and the overall vibe surrounding each of them. They tend to have their finger consistently on the pulse of the anime industry, the anime fandom, and key related fandoms (manga fans, light novel fans, eroge fans, etc...). I myself follow anime somewhat closely, but I don't keep tabs on this wondrously wider world of the modern otaku with quite the admirable thoroughness and zeal as these folks do.
So... when an anime does significantly worse than initially expected or hoped for by these hardcore anime fans, it becomes an intensely intriguing intellectual curiosity for me. This was true when the heavily hyped Umineko anime bombed, and it's also true now with TWGON (which is the acronym I will use through out the rest of this post to refer to The World God Only Knows) likely suffering a similar fate.
Ratings wise, TWGON has been a disaster, even for a late night anime airing in Japan. I've also read an anime fan state that preorders for DVDs/Blu-Rays of this anime has also been low. Now, information of this nature is still sketchy at best, but there's enough red flags being raised to suggest that Keima might not get to see many more "flags" in his anime.
So, that begs the question... what might be contributing to one of the more heavily anticipated anime series' of the year not doing so well? After some thought, I have three ideas to put forward. One is not of my own design, but the second and third are. Anyway, with out further adieu, let us delve into the three possible causes for what's hurting this anime:
1. The Pacing is Broken
Buggy pacing is buggy.
This appears to be the leading answer at the moment, and there's definitely some sound rationale to it. By all accounts, the anime is significantly padding out stories that were relatively short in the associated manga and/or light novel. The general consensus appears to be that the Kanon storyline was an episode too long, and having two "filler" episodes surrounding it may have been quite excessive.
Now, I myself liked the Kanon storyline, and found it very entertaining and fulfilling as is. I also found the "buggy game" episode before it to make for a good chuckle and some lighthearted fun. However, I have to admit that having another filler episode (i.e. one not involving Keima trying to capture a loose soul and free a girl from its hold) immediately after the Kanon storyline might have been the proverbial glitch that broke the game's flow.
When you think about it, we've now had a five episode stretch in TWGON in which only one "capture" has occurred, or even been attempted. That's a long time without multiple captures. It could definitely be a factor in the anime's struggles.
Still... once an anime viewer watches over three episodes of a short one cour anime, it's probably rare for such a viewer to drop it even if he or she does grow somewhat bored. So I think that there may be more at play here than pacing alone. That brings me to my second possible cause for the struggles of TWGON.
2. Too Much Competition
Welcome to Kuroneko's world, Keima...
It stands to reason that the target demographic for TWGON are people who are both anime fans, and eroge fans/players. Now, when it comes to what these people do in their leisure time, I suspect that it's divided up mostly between eroges and anime. Some time is probably spent playing real life eroges, which necessarily eats into the amount of time that can be devoted to watching anime.
Now, the animes that such anime/eroge fans would be into are likely to be, first and foremost, anime adaptations of eroges. Right now, there's at least three such animes airing, and that's just going by my limited knowledge. Those are Amagami SS, Yosuga no Sora, and Fortune Arterial.
Now, after that, an anime about eroges, or where eroges play a key role in the plot, could also be choice viewing selections for anime/eroge fans. Here we come to TWGON, and perhaps the Fall 2010 anime season's most prominent anime, Ore no Imouto.
So, that's at least five animes that would hold natural appeal to anime/eroge fans. Maybe that's more than what such fans can balance within their limited leisure time along with playing real life eroges. Perhaps one of the five has to be dropped simply as a matter of time management, and Kirino et al ends up trumping Keima here.
This certainly wouldn't be unprecedented for the entertainment industry in general, either. I know of some pretty solid RPGs that have been hurt considerably by being released too close to the latest Final Fantasy game. Likewise, maybe TWGON would have been better off being released back in the Summer, when it's only major competition for anime/eroge fans would have been Amagami SS.
In fact, I'm starting to wonder if the anime/eroge crossover market has reached a saturation point in general. That's a discussion for another day, however. For now I will look at the one remaining possible reason that I can see for TWGON's plight.
3. The Art Style
Now, this is probably the wildest, the most speculative, and the most theoretical of my three possible causes for the unexpectedly small viewership of my anime. But please stay with me here, and let me explain.
The art style for TWGON isn't exactly bad. It's respectable, solid... typical.
And maybe that's the problem.
Suppose you're a casual or middle-of-the-road anime fan living in Japan and surfing the internet or the TV for a new anime to watch. You have dozens upon dozens of animes to choose from, and your knowledge of where they come from and what source material they may be based on is nil. So, for you, your anime viewing choice might depend in large part simply on the visuals.
You see TWGON, and maybe you think "It looks too generic. It's overall art style reminds me too much of all sorts of other animes. Other animes like..."
Notice the considerable artistic similarities between TWGON, and the above images taken from Kaicho no Maid-sama! and Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou. All three animes use solid coloring, normal body proportions, simple hair designs, and very basic and streamlined apparel for the characters. It's a bright and solid, but decidedly "no frills" approach to the anime's art style.
Now, contrast that with the following anime screen-shots and how our casual anime viewer might respond to them...
"Whoa, that's gnarly dude! I haven't seen any anime recently that looks much like that!"
"Really impressive attention to detail! Love the realism, and slight distinctive touches on the hair and faces!"
"That's pretty conventional anime art... but the high production values are obvious! With its unique use of shading and lighting effects, this looks like a very high caliber work!"
Now, a couple things to keep in mind.
Kaicho no Maid-sama! and Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou bombed in DVD/Blu-Ray sales.
Durarara!, K-On!!, and Angel Beats! are amongst the very best selling animes of the year.
Maybe having a generic anime art style kills viewer interest, while having something distinctive, something with impressive attention to detail, and/or something with noticeably high production values will garner greater interest and economic success. Something to consider, anyway.
So, what do you, good reader, think? Do you agree with one of these three possible causes, all of them, none of them? I'd love to hear from you. :)
In any event, I hope that TWGON can turn it around... but if it doesn't bounce back, maybe the anime industry can learn something from its failures, which would at least help the world of anime going forward.