Late night anime (深夜アニメ shin'ya anime?) is a term for an anime television series that air during late night or early morning in Japan, usually between 11 P.M. and 4 A.M. Sometimes the time that an episode is aired may be written in a time format with the hour larger than 24 (like 25:30 and 26:00), which is equivalent to 1:30 A.M. and 2 A.M. of the next day.
Late night anime is targeted toward anime fans or a teenage to young adult audience. One of the purposes of the late night broadcast is to promote DVDs or associated merchandise that are planned for release in the future. Other than original stories, many anime are based on manga, novels, or video games. The genres that tend to be preferred by anime fans include romantic comedy, slice of life story, action, or sci-fi, but there are exceptions. Most series are broadcast for 3 months or 6 months with 12 to 13 episodes for each block of 3 months. With the exception of NTV programs, few titles have longer than these broadcast times.
In most cases, a production committee (a group of several related companies) buys a time slot from a TV station. This process is known as brokered programming, and is similar to how infomercials are broadcast. Therefore, unlike ordinary programs, production companies are sponsoring companies as well. This way, TV stations can fill the time slots with low viewership, while production companies can advertise their products (anime DVDs) at a lower cost. Since a production’s purpose is to promote the title to fans, low ratings or a lack of sponsors is of little concern. Consequently, the number of late night anime is increasing. The fact that they rely on the sales of DVDs means that these anime are virtually the same as OVAs, except that they get a chance to be promoted. This is why "pure" OVA series have decreased rapidly.
The difference between TV version and DVD version
When a late night anime is released onto video or DVD, they tend to have their contents altered or expanded, such as:
- Improved animation quality
- Scenes uncensored
- Completely new videos added, such as side stories or epilogues
Extras, like commentaries by the cast or production staff may also be added.
Such alteration often happens for television series, but this tendency is especially prominent for late night anime, because:
- Production companies may not have enough time, or a large enough budget, to make a higher quality series in time for television transmission,
- They often may want to include sexual or violent content that are restricted for broadcast on television.
- They have to add value for the DVD release, since they mainly rely on DVD sales.
As of July 2006, there are 67 late night titles being broadcast, out of 95 total anime titles. This number includes those broadcast by satellite and UHF stations as well. However, not all are broadcast nationwide. Tokyo, for instance, has 49 late night anime series being broadcast. In Okinawa, only 3 of them are on the air.
In many cases, the title is broadcast only in the area of the station producing the anime (which, in most cases, is Tokyo). In other cases, they are only broadcast in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. UHF anime tends to be broadcast in Osaka, Nagoya, and Kantō region, but not in Tokyo. There are some titles that are broadcast nationwide, but such cases are the exception, not the rule. In other areas, variety shows with local tarento are often popular, making anime's entry difficult. This is especially the case in Hokkaidō, where Yo Oizumi and his program are extremely popular.
If a household has access to satellite or cable television, the situation becomes a little better, because anime oriented stations such as Kids Station, Animax, or AT-X broadcasts many of those titles. However, their broadcastings are often weeks or months behind the first run. Moreover, satellite and cable television are not as common in Japan when compared to the United States.
The earliest late night anime titles include Sennin Buraku (仙人部落?) (1963–1964), Lemon Angel (レモンエンジェル Remon Enjeru?) (1987), and Super Zugan (スーパーヅガン Sūpā Zugan?) (1992). All of them were transmitted on Fuji TV. Sennin Buraku was from the longest running manga ever, still published in an adult magazine called Weekly Asahi Geinō. Lemon Angel was an adult anime that is a spin-off of the adult OVA Cream Lemon. Super Zugan was from a manga about mahjong. Those titles received some attention, but remained single experimental programs.
The title considered to be the true pioneer of late night anime is Those Who Hunt Elves (エルフを狩るモノたち Erufu o Karu Mono Tachi?) (1996) on TV Tokyo. At the time, several late night radio talk shows hosted by various seiyū were popular. As a genre, those programs were called "aniraji", the abbreviation of anime and rajio (radio). TV producers thought that if anime-related radio programs on late night can be popular, then anime TV programs on late night should work too. The result turned out as they wished. Because of this, TV Tokyo continued their late night time slots. In 1997, the time slots were expanded, and they became the basis of the "late night anime" that we now know. At the time, following the immense success of Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン Shin Seiki Evangerion?), the number of produced anime rapidly increased. Many of those titles came to late night slots. Nippon TV also started their late night anime with Berserk (剣風伝奇ベルセルク Kenpū Denki Beruseruku?).
In 1998, Fuji TV restarted their late night anime. Also, BS satellite station WOWOW started their block with the complete version of Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ Kaubōi Bibappu?), which had been incompletely broadcast in TV Tokyo's evening time slot.
The first UHF late night anime, Legend of Basara (Rejendo obu Basara), started this year as well. However, the true rise of UHF anime came with Comic Party (こみっくパーティー Komikku Pātī?) (2001). In 2001, BS digital station BS-i began their time slot with Mahoromatic (まほろまてぃっく Mahoromatikku?), making the cute title one of its killer contents.
In 2002, Fuji TV increased the number of programs that they broadcast. However, they did not value the otherwise filler programs with nearly zero ratings. Schedules of their late night anime became extremely unstable. For instance, when a program was on air at 2:25 A.M., the next week it was on air at 1:55 A.M. The week after, it was not broadcast, and the next week, 2 episodes were shown at 3:05 A.M. An extreme case was the last week of Kanon, for which they broadcast the last 3 episodes in a marathon. Anime fans heavily criticized this attitude, and production companies began to avoid broadcasting on Fuji TV. The number of late night anime on Fuji TV has decreased, and in October 2004, it completely disappeared. However, from April 2005, they started the time block called Noitamina, the block aimed for a young adult female audience, who otherwise would not watch anime. However, non-Noitamina anime, such as Mushishi (蟲師 Mushishi?), still do not get a proper screening.
Current tendencies of the major nationwide networks
- NHK General, NHK Educational
- NHK is the only public broadcasting station in Japan. They do not broadcast late night anime, except for reruns.
- They mainly show anime designed for non-otaku audiences, but the titles still appeal to anime fans as well. Also, they show titles with many episodes, such as Monster (Monsutā). By starting Ouran High School Host Club (桜蘭高校ホスト部 Ōran Kōkō Hosuto-bu?) and NANA, they now target female audiences as well.
- tv asahi
- They tend to broadcast at later hours than other stations (such as 2:40 A.M.) Many of their titles are original anime stories that are not based on other media. Their program can generally be watched by most people, without too much violence or fanservice. Examples include Kamichu! (かみちゅ! Kamichu!?).
- Some of their programs, such as Strawberry Marshmallow (苺ましまろ Ichigo Mashimaro?) or Rozen Maiden (ローゼンメイデン Rōzen Meiden?) are immensely popular among anime fans.
- It is notable that some of the titles they produce are not broadcast on TBS, but on BS-i (a satellite channel affiliated to TBS) or on UHF stations. Such cases include Victorian Romance Emma (英國戀物語エマ Eikoku Koi-monogatari Ema?) and Fate/stay night (Feito/sutei naito).
- TV Tokyo
- The weakest network station among them, TV TOKYO always had to explore programs for niche audiences. Such genres include financial news, travel, jidaigeki (samurai fiction), outdoors, pets, and anime. Among major network stations, more than half of the anime titles are broadcast on this channel. As such, their late night anime are abundant with wide varieties.
- Fuji TV
- Because of the reason explained above, they broadcast the least among major network key stations in Tokyo, after NHK. See Noitamina for detailed lineups.
Japanese TV stations do not have a clear detailed system of parental guidelines. The only clear rule is that they cannot show sexual organs. However, they do have many tacit understandings of self-restriction. Bare breasts, for example, are difficult to broadcast on prime time.
TV Tokyo once broadcast radical programs such as Evangelion during the evening. However, in 1997, they had "Pokémon-shock", the incident that caused many children to feel ill by watching the Pokémon episode that contained many flashing lights. After the incident, TV Tokyo's self-restriction codes became much more strict. Now, TV Tokyo and Fuji TV are said to be extremely strict on sexual descriptions. Naked bodies are censored, and female underwear are censored as well. Even when a female character with a mini-skirt jumps, her skirt does not whip, which is often ridiculed by fans. These censorships on VHFs have become one of the primary reasons of the rise of UHF anime.
Rise of UHF anime
In Kantō region including Tokyo, the major nationwide network stations broadcast on analog on the VHF channels. The "independent" stations established to provide prefecture-specific programming broadcast on the UHF channels. They are members of the Japanese Association of Independent Television Stations. In Osaka the situation is similar with exception of TV Osaka. (Note that all the Japanese terrestrial television are switching to UHF digital. In 2011, all analog transmissions on both VHF and UHF are scheduled to close.)
However, because these UHF stations are obscure, they don't have strong restrictions. Also, their time slots were much cheaper than those of VHF stations. Avoiding strict restrictions by a nation-wide television network, and avoiding random scheduling by Fuji TV, many anime, especially those with a lot of fan service, began to be broadcast on UHF stations. This even more obscure method still proved to be fairly effective, and UHF anime time slots continued to expand, especially from 2001. In 2006, if UHF stations are to be treated as one network (which they are not), it now broadcasts the largest number of late night anime (16), even more than TV Tokyo (8). However, many shows suffer from lower budgets compared with VHF shows.
Because of loose self-restriction codes, many of the titles contain sexual or violent expression that is impossible to broadcast on VHF stations. Examples include Rizelmine and Elfen Lied (エルフェンリート Erufen Rīto?). (The latter title, however, was still heavily edited.) Nevertheless, as UHF anime continue to expand, they recently have more varieties. Shōjo titles such as We were Here (僕等がいた Bokura ga Ita?) are now also broadcast. Princess Tutu (プリンセスチュチュ Purinsesu Chuchu?), a show which can be watched by young children, is a UHF late night anime, too. As The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu?) became a huge hit, UHF late night anime has lost the "cheapest, but the most obscure option" description.
Similar tendencies can be seen in other channels as well, such as WOWOW, BS-i, and CS channels on SkyPerfecTV!. It is notable that AT-X, a pay-channel on SkyPerfecTV!, broadcast Elfen Lied unedited. It is on WOWOW and BS-i, as well as other CS channels that the rest of Asia who can receive their signal gets a view of these UHF anime.
- UHF anime
- ja:深夜アニメ一覧 Japanese list of late night anime titles
- ja:UHFアニメ一覧 Japanese list of UHF anime titles