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 1 "cour" (3 months, 12 or 13 episodes) or 2 "cour" (6 months, 24 to 26 episodes). With the exception of NTV programs, few titles have longer "cour".
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.
When a late night anime is released onto video or DVD, they tend to have their contents altered or expanded, such as:
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:
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 (1963-1964), (1987), and (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 (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 , 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 .
In 1998, Fuji TV restarted their late night anime. Also, BS satellite station WOWOW started their block with the complete version of , 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 (2001). In 2001, BS digital station BS-i began their time slot with , 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 , still do not get a proper screening.
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.
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 . (The latter title, however, was still heavily edited.) Nevertheless, as UHF anime continue to expand, they recently have more varieties. Shōjo titles such as are now also broadcast. , a show which can be watched by young children, is a UHF late night anime, too. As 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 obscure 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.
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