Friday’s Feature: Discussing Sequels, Prequels and Spin-Offs

When it came to movies, I was always wary of sequels growing up. It was more or less universally accepted that the sequel would be weaker than the original with a few exceptions (which of course proved the rule). I was less aware of prequels until the Star Wars franchise essentially hacked the heart out of their own series by delivering 3 very underwhelming movies that pretty much told us nothing that we hadn’t already figured out from watching the original series. Since then we’ve had plenty of other examples in movies of prequels and sequels just not quite hitting the mark.

So how does this translate to the anime watching experience?

Well it doesn’t really because anime sometimes wraps up the story in one season, but often it doesn’t. What we usually call a sequel in anime is regularly just an ongoing continuation of a story that wasn’t finished. Which means that sometimes that second part is awesome (or third, or fourth, or whatever in the case of very long running series). However, sometimes even if the story isn’t finished it feels like the characters have said everything they needed to and we’re just getting put through the motions of yet more fights and battles for the sake of it.

That said, some sequels are amazing. Higurashi’s second season is fantastic, and totally necessary if you ever want to know why everyone keeps dying in that story. Meanwhile, Black Butler 2 I probably could have done without (and Darker Than Black 2 and quite a few others). What it comes down to is while I will watch a sequel to a series I enjoyed, I always watch with the assumption that there’s a good chance it will go downhill fast, that way if they manage to pull off something decent I’m always pleasantly surprised. And I know some people are screaming Endless Eight right now which is probably another reason to be wary of some sequels.

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The occasional prequel that shows up (such as Handa-kun) doesn’t really register given how infrequent they are. Generally, any backstory that is needed is told through flashbacks and prequels just aren’t needed. That hasn’t stopped various ‘young’ insert character name stories cropping up but they aren’t exactly flooding the market (and please don’t).

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Then, we’ve also got spin-off series which are extremely hit and miss. Some manage to surpass the original where others just end up looking like a watered down imitation. A Certain Scientific Railgun is an excellent example of a spin-off that kind of left the original material in the dust. While I like A Certain Magical Index, the need to explain magic, esper abilities, and Touma’s weird ability which falls into neither category, meant the whole thing was very crowded. Also, Touma regularly faced magical villains which meant despite the show being set in a city of espers, esper abilities sat more as a background setting than a focus. Railgun deals pretty much exclusively with the espers and esper issues and as a direct result the world building is significantly stronger and the conflicts are far easier to convey and explain.

shirai

This season we’ve got Sword Oratoria giving us a different view of the world from DanMachi (Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?). Where Sword Oratoria concerned me even from its announcement was in the focus character. See, Railgun took the most interesting character out of Index and gave her a chance to shine. Sword Oratoria takes the least interesting character out of DanMachi and so far hasn’t done much with her. That isn’t to say it can’t pick up, but you have to wonder why we didn’t just get a continuation of DanMachi given Bell’s story wasn’t yet done.

What it means is, there’s no hard and fast rule in anime (or in movies really) as to whether a sequel, prequel, or spin-off will work or not which leaves a lot of fans wading through poor follow up seasons in the hope of stumbling across a good one.

Winter 2017 gave us a number of sequels to consider and to be honest I found them all lacking. Tales of Zestiria the X had been reasonable in season 1, but season 2 lost all focus and forward momentum before rushing to a conclusion that made very little sense to those who hadn’t played the game because so many things happened just because. It was kind of a let down even for those of us with minimal expectations of it. Iron Blooded Orphans similarly kind of faded during its second season. While it maintained a reasonable storyline, it just lacked the punch of the original. Meanwhile, Super Lovers 2 just left me wondering if the characters actually had made any headway at all and Blue  Exorcist just felt like they thought they could just throw any random villain at the characters because the audience would be happy with whatever.

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Then we got to Spring 2017 and while I’m watching the spin-off Sword Oratoria, in terms of sequels the load is heavy. My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, The Eccentric Family and Natsume Yuujinchou are all trying to draw me back into their worlds. Natsume has the advantage in that it’s up to season 6 (and I’ll come back to Natsume in a little bit). The Eccentric Family made a strong start. Both My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan have done a reasonable job (and I’ll admit My Hero Academia seems to be getting stronger by the episode), but at this point neither has really convinced me they can surpass the first season (I’d love to be proven wrong and for both to end well).

For me, the main issue always seems to be that unlike a new series, a sequel is stuck with all the expectations of the audience and preconceived notions. We’ve watched part 1, we know these characters and this setting. It limits where the story can go but it can still be very good if there is character development to be found or more story to be told.

There are three series that I want to discuss in regards to sequels.

Kaname

Starting with Full Metal Panic, this series had a season 1 and then we got Second Raid. There’s also a filler comedy season which should be regarded in its own way (its hilarious) but I’m not discussing that here. Arguably, you can stop watching at the end of season 1. You can. Chidori realises she’s got all this stuff in her head and she uses it to save the submarine. Sousuke beats the guy he’s been wanting to beat. They celebrate and then they go back to school. Yeah, Chidori is still going to be targeted and Sousuke still knows nothing about living in the real world, but essentially, it’s a good stopping point.

So why Second Raid?

Because what does Chidori want to do now that she knows she has this knowledge in her head? Is Sousuke actually just going to play the good soldier forever? And what is their relationship? There were plenty of character points still open that had more than enough points of interest to explore and certainly more than enough villains in the world to get the plot moving again. The reason Second Raid works though is Chidori and Sousuke both get pushed to their limit. Chidori is forced to fight for her own life because Sousuke doesn’t instantly save her. He’s too busy going through his own little mental break down which is spectacular to see given everything he’s been through. And while he recovers just a little too fast, it is a mecha series and mental health was never supposed to be the main focus (it isn’t Evangelion).

However, then there’s the announcement about yet another season and the only question I had was why? While season 1 set the scene and the plot really well while introducing us to the characters and season 2 showed us the true effect of everything they’d been through on the characters, what will season 3 offer us other than either more of the same or just another random villain? As much as I love this story and these characters, I’m not convinced yet that another season is needed. Though, there also haven’t been any details about season 3 released (other than a delay) so maybe they have come up with something worth saying.

Kirito_Dual_Blades

But all of this contrasts with my view of SAO in terms of sequels. Sword Art Online was fantastic when it came out. The entire first arc, playing Sword Art Online, was good (I know some people have issues with it but it works). I loved it. Then Kirito beats the game and they all wake up. That’s great. We’re trapped in a game that can kill us and someone finally let us out. Whoo-hoo.

So why isn’t that the end of season 1?

Because some people didn’t wake up. Okay. Fine. Why not?

Technically, this could have worked as a continuation. It could have. But most people will agree that Fairy Dance is the weakest of the SAO stories. While it does tie up a loose end or 2 from SAO, it isn’t necessary. The story could have ended with them waking up and being reunited. They added an additional complication for no reason other then to force a continuation that wasn’t needed, turned a reasonably capable female character into a damsel in distress, and introduced a villain who was so immature and cartoonish in his villainy you couldn’t have taken him seriously if you tried.

Then we have GGO and the Mother Rosario arcs, both of which I kind of regard more as Spin-offs given how little in common they have with the original story at this point. More importantly, Kirito pretty much stops developing as a character (and I know some people will argue he didn’t develop in the original, but we’ll save that argument for later). Essentially, he freezes at the end of Fairy Dance. There’s nothing more to say about him. He does stuff, but he no longer changes as a result of his actions or decisions.

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The last series I want to touch on is Natsume Yuujinchou which is already 5 seasons, with season 6 getting underway. Natsume in terms of story has never really felt like it is driving toward anything. The conflict has always been Natsume dealing with how to live. That isn’t something that can be ‘solved’ or ‘overcome’ and it isn’t something that ends. And it is a conflict that continually sees the main character reflect and grow (admittedly in very slow and small steps). What that ultimately means is that despite the number of sequels, this story still doesn’t feel finished and this character is still evolving. Spending more time with him on his journey is always fun.

Basically, anime sequels (or prequels or spin-offs) all need to be considered in the light of the series they are attached to. For me if they actually are needed or are adding something of value to the character or the story then I will usually find them highly enjoyable. But if I’m just expected to swallow lack luster story telling because someone slapped a name on it I recognise, I’m going to move on.

How do you feel about sequels and prequels in anime?


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32 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Discussing Sequels, Prequels and Spin-Offs

  1. I agreed with a lot of the points you brought up in this post, usually I don’t really watch sequels (since I have a hard enough time keeping up with first seasons), but I have seen a few and like you said they are all pretty hit or miss.

    I loved Darker than Black… but the second season, while pretty cool, didn’t really need to exist. The first season had wrapped up enough of the major plot holes to leave me satisfied, plus seeing Hei like that in season 2 broke my heart…

    Full Metal Panic was one of the few series to get sequels right and when I heard about the season 3 I was more than a little confused. I know that the light novel series covers more than either of the seasons covered, but as a stand alone, the anime was pretty much set. So like you, I’m going to put a pen in my thoughts about season 3 until I see what they come up with.

    SAO… SAO is one of those love it or hate it series, but I agree with you, one season was more than enough… I tried watching Fairy Dance and it took me three episodes to realize I didn’t need to watch any further.

    LOL and don’t get me started on the Star Wars prequels… Lucas should have left well enough alone!

    Awesome post as always! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lucas definitely should have left that alone, but I guess then we wouldn’t have the current trilogy which may or may not end well.
      Yeah, Full Metal Panic is really something I’m concerned about. I love it a lot and I will watch more or less anything they put out, but I’m worried it will end up being Darker Than Black or Black Butler all over again where I just kind of pretend those sequels don’t exist.
      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  2. I think some sequels and prequels can be good. It ultimately depends how the last season wrapped up and what they are trying to do. So it is a case by case basis.

    For prequels the best I have seen recently is Fate Zero. It is a fantastic prequel to the original Fate Stay Night. It opens expecting you to already be familiar with characters because we don’t follow the original cast we follow their parents in the previous Mage War. We see new faces and old familiar heroic spirits. Plus the battles were more intense as was the violence. The original Fate Stay Night focused more or less on one character as he muddled his way through the Mage War while trying to be an idealistic hero who didn’t kill anyone. The prequel had no such notions mages brutally killed each other and acted like a real conflict. All in all I’d say it was a fantastic prequel well worth the watch and you could watch it stand alone.

    Unfortunately they could not leave well enough alone and we got a reboot in Unlimited Blade Works. That story was basically the same one from Fate Stay Night with a shoehorned romance that no one wanted and a lackluster ending in an attempt to make the main character more heroic than the first series. It was OK but I’d stick to the first two Fate Stay Night and Fate Zero.

    As for good Sequel series. Well High School DxD comes to mind. It gets crazier each season but it is also an ongoing manga. As with all anime that are part of an ongoing series honestly some arcs are better than others. I’d argue that Hunter x Hunter didn’t get really good for me until the Chimera Ant Arc which was like Season 3. I still watched the others but I’ll be honest I fast forwarded a lot especially scenes with Gon and Killua just doing cute things.

    Some series also degrade seriously in quality with other seasons. Look at DBZ and Bleach. They start off awesome and become less so as they went on. DBZ should have ended on a high note in the Frieza Saga. It was the last of their really great arcs. Bleach well I’m not sure where it should have ended. I did enjoy the Zanpukto tales. Honestly he should have just fought Aizen in Heuco Mundo and been done with it. It would have speared us so much filler and waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to not think of new seasons as sequels but as continuation – which they are – and just binge them happily without any particular expectations. Of course it doesn’t always work out, like with Tokyo Ghoul or Darker than Black, but most of the time, I enjoy having more of the characters I’ve become attached to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That works with something like Attack on Titan where season 1 clearly didn’t end the story but Darker Than Black felt like it had come to a climax and a resolution at least for the main character (plenty of other loose ends but he made his decision). As a result, when Darker Than Black 2 came out it had to convince me it was a story that could stand on its own because season 1 could stand on its own without it, and Darker Than Black 2 cannot. As a story its pretty ordinary.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. One of my favorite things about anime is the (usually) self contained nature of them. A lot of shows are very content just being one or two cours because they know that’s all the time they need.

    GiTS has lots of different TV takes on it’s unvierse in the SAC’s which I think is fantastic and Psycho-Pass managed to not be tainted by it’s lackluster sequel due to the self contained nature of the first season.

    I think Anime’s handling of sequels is one of it’s major strengths over western media. For instance in Prison Break *Spoilers* they break out of prison at the end of season . There are four seasons of Prison Break, all staring the same cast. If it had done a GITS thing or known when to stop then it would’ve remained great but each sequel series just diluted it’s quality so much.

    I think part of it is to do with how Anime can make a lot of money through merchandise and the like as opposed to western media. I should probably just write a piece on the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, the self-contained nature of most series is what I enjoy about them. I can watch a story that has a definite beginning and end and then I can watch something else. Rather than watching the same characters become increasingly generic or repetitive season after season.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with when you said you view GGO & Mother’s Rosairo as spinoffs. Both arcs weren’t necessary from what we’ve seen so long as nothing ties in to the Alicization arc from the light novels, both arcs were kind of necessary because they couldn’t leave Asuna as just one of Kirito’s girls so they used Mother’s Rosario to give her a spotlight. As far as GGO goes you could say that they wanted to give Kirito some sort of competition even though he was OP compared to Sinon which made no sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oi I’m gonna have to ask you to walk back those comments about Winter 2017 sequels mate, I mean I ain’t callin’ you completely wrong but that WAS the season we got Shouwa Genroku Rakugou Shinjuu 2, KonoSuba 2 and the second half of 3-Gatsu no Lion, so WATCH YO TONGUE FOOL XD

    Like

    1. Second half of March Comes in doesn’t count because it is simply the second half of season 1, not a sequel (and yes it was amazing). Also, I never watched the first part of Shouwa Genroku or Kono Suba so I hardly engaged in the sequel. Of the sequels I watched, Super Lovers, Ao No Exorcist, and Tales of Zestiria, all three of them were barely average. Not saying the two sequels you named were bad and actually have no opinion on them as sequels having never watched them, but I stand by my opinion of the sequels I watched.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha well you really missed out then, both those sequel series were AMAZING! btw don’t take that comment seriously or anything, I’m just goofin’ around 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I usually don’t mind sequel as long as it’s a continuation of the original series / story or if it bring more to the series, like most of the sport anime. However, if the sequel change thing from the original for doesn’t live up the 1st season, I rather almost forget about it, like Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino, for this season they took thing from the original manga series and change other, I was really annoyed by it. Another series I wasn’t really found of the sequel is Psycho-Pass, while I adore the 1st season, I can’t with the 2nd one, Kamui might be really handsome, but he doesn’t have Makishima charisma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still haven’t watched the second Psycho Pass, mostly because I’ve heard very little overly positive about it. And really, without Makishima, I’m not sure it could be as enjoyable as the first season.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As usual another thought provoking and well written post. It is a funny coincidence by the way, as hopefully somewhere this weekend (I have to work tomorrow), I plan to write a post about a prequel to Macross I have almost finished watching called Macross Zero. In that post I am going to adress the issue of prequels in general as well: do we really need them, because basically we always know that certain characters will get to live anyway? And that pretty much robs us of the excitement for it.
    That said sequels can work. In the old days of movies, most sequels were almost always worse than the original (a few exceptions to this rule ofcourse are always there like for instance Aliens). These days however sequels can actually surpass the original. This seems to be the case with a lot of Marvel superhero movies. As for Anime and tv series in general. It is a bit of mixed bag. Second, third an beyond seasons can really be good. So far I have no complaints about the second season for Attack on Titan for instance. Another good example is the second season of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, which was even better than season 1. It all comes down to whether or not the story is interesting enough, and manages to entertain. With long running series, it is very hard to maintain a great level of quality, and usually it deviates a lot from what you liked the show for in the beginning. Still…if done well, and it is a series I love…I definitely don’t mind seeing other seasons/episodes for it 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve always wondered why prequels are needed and generally they just aren’t. I guess some people enjoy them but I’d be hard pressed to point to a prequel that I thought was totally necessary and entertaining.
      Looking forward to your post on prequels.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I tend to look at sequels and prequels based on their quality. Off the the that you covered, the only series that I saw more than one episode of was SAO, and I gave up on that early on, so I couldn’t comment. I do agree that Black Butler 2 was one that could be done without though. And Endless Eight? I actually watched that in one sitting…that was a dumb decision on my part. The Haruhi movie I did like though.
    I’m enjoying AOT S2 thus far. I’ve loved a lot of the Digimon sequels too. Pokemon was a mixed bag. The second Vampire Hunter D film was a big improvement in my eyes though.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. im not completely sold on judging shows by seasons. i think, in general, a season is a production concept, not necessarily a story concept. what i mean by that is that the season is where the producer is deciding to break, not when the story is trying to break. that’s why you can have stories that cut in the middle when a season ends or (in terms of LNs or manga) a volume that cuts in a weird place. i think you start to touch on this point that ideally these two would be equivalent and i dont really know the answer to that question. i dont think it’s necessarily wrong to say season X was better than season Y, but i think of it more like “i liked the stories in that season”. i think this becomes increasingly relevant as more and more series get released in non-consecutive seasons. probably just being pedantic, but that’s the distinction i make.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For stories that do continue on because they were unfinished, it is fairly difficult to judge by seasons as it really is just the same story ongoing. I think the reason I tend to split things by seasons is because of when things become available and how we buy them as a physical media. I regularly hesitate at buying a second season if I felt it wasn’t as strong as the first even if it continues the same story. Admittedly, as online streaming becomes more the normal, distinctions between seasons will become lessened because whether you go on to the second season or not it wil probably be sitting there in the catalogue waiting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. that’s fair. i don’t do anything with physical media, so i don’t really think like that. that being said, i was under the impression that some licensors release series in half-seasons or in four-episode batches

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Some do and I tend to wait until a full season box set is released (mostly because half seasons and four episode batches take up too much shelf space). There’s a few shows that never get a box though and you have to buy them in parts. I still only buy full seasons though, even if that means buying a few parts simultaneously. Having part of a season just irks me for some reason so it is kind of an all or nothing purchase.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. They seriously should have stopped when Asuna woke up. That arc with players killing the players in real time is totally unnecessary. just my opinion. If they wanted a continuation, the developers of this killing game should have been investigated in this arc.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Great article, I really enjoyed reading it! I would agree with just about everything in it. For me SAO was wonderful in the first arc but never really catches that same feeling in it!

    Contrast that with Log Horizon (keeping to the same genre and release period), where the characters are constantly changing and being pushed and other characters being brought to the front. It just makes for a much better watch!

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