The ending to the Sisters arc in Railgun was spectacular. It was a cinematic masterpiece. Almost every single line in the episode was epic and quotable on its own. Unfortunately, this leaves Railgun in a strange place where we don't know what it will do next. We know the story isn't going to continue following the Railgun manga anymore this season. However, the remaining options are varied -- it could follow light novel material, it could be original material but planned by the original author (like the Index movie was), or it could just be pure filler. Until we know what's coming next, it's hard to recommend the series for watching beyond this point. As such, I have to drop it from the #1 spot to the bottom of the list on my viewing priorities.
Meanwhile, Kitakubu continues to be hilarious in its third episode. A lot of series can be good for an episode or even two, but when a series is solid three episodes in it's hard to believe it will be anything but great throughout. This is no Kotoura-san, nor is it a Stella Jogakuin C3-bu. It's time to bump this series up my viewing priorities list in place of Railgun. Here's how things look now that I've gotten a third impression on the summer season:
1. Monogatari Series: Second Season
2. The World God Only Knows
3. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya
4. Kiniro Mosaic
5. Kitakubo Katsudou Kiroku
6. Hunter x Hunter
7. Ro-Kyu-Bu SS
8. Shingeki no Kyojin
9. Tamayura ~More Aggressive ~
10. Watamote (Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui)
11. Doki Doki Pretty Cure
13. One Piece
Looking at this list, I'm reminded that longer series are really coming into their own these days. They seem to be putting a decisive distance between them and shorter series that will simply never keep up. In the top ten of my rankings, many of the series are still being expanded on as we speak. Code Geass, for instance, or Nanoha. The shortest series in the top ten would be Seikai no Monshou/Senki/Danshou, but even it is around 40 episodes in length and still has the potential for a new season, considering the source material is finally growing once more. Kanon and Katanagatari are both essentially 24 episode series, but that's still longer than the average anime series these days. Which brings you to the first real short series, Madoka Magica and Angel Beats. Even so, Madoka Magica is getting a new movie, which will dramatically add to the total minutes of the franchise, and even Angel Beats has plenty of new source material if they wished to add to the anime later. The next 'short' series is Sora no Woto at #31, which has 14 episodes in all, still larger than a one cour, 12 episode series can hope for. If you aren't at least 24 episodes long, it's extremely difficult for a story to be good. And to be truly good, top 10 level, even 24 episodes isn't enough, the floor now seems to be more like 40 episodes or more.
This sheer lack of length is the only thing holding Sword Art Online back. At 24 episodes, it's just too short. It needs to cover more material if it wants to enter the top 10, and the material it has left to cover is fantastic, so it just needs to announce that it will cover the material and I'd shoot its ranking up immediately. The same is true of Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai. Such an incredible story that just makes you cry over and over again, including the latest oav that was released. But so short! So terribly short! The source material is infinitely longer. If the whole thing were animated, how good would the series be? Top ten isn't even out of the question.
In this season, a lot of series are coming into their own, growing into their true potential, just by being given additional length. X-Monogatari, The World God Only Knows, Shingeki no Kyojin, Ro-Kyu-Bu, Tamayura, Hunter x Hunter, Fate/etc, and Index-Railgun all profited by just being given more time to show their wares. But how much better would Index-Railgun be if the entirety of their source material were animated? All the light novels and all the manga until the very end? We're up to around 100 episodes already, but the anime is still just the tip of the iceberg in terms of remaining content! How good would it be at 200 episodes, or 300 episodes long? It's just impossible to know at this point. How good would Hayate and Kaminomi be if all their manga were adapted instead of just bits and pieces? Unknown.
How good will Hunter x Hunter be by the end? That may yet be a year away. How good will X-monogatari be once everything possible has been adapted and the last light novel is out? Unknown. How good will the Fate franchise be if they adapt all of Kaleid Liner (ie, zwei and drei as well) and Fate/Ataraxia and Heaven's Feel and possibly more? Unknown.
These longer series all have so much potential. They are leaving the rest of anime behind in the dust. Every new 12 episode adaption of some new series simply has no chance of getting high in the rankings because it's competing with established giants that are ten or twenty times as long as they are. Just today, five new anime series were announced based off of the same light novel publishing company as brought us Zero no Tsukaima and Haganai. They all might have potential, for all I know they all might be amazing, but what's the use when they'll each get 12 episodes and then never be seen again?
I wish Japan would take a long, deep breath, and announce they weren't going to make any new franchise for a while. They would just concentrate on expanding every established series to the very brink of their source material -- however long that can last. For instance, Haganai is caught up with the light novels (though it did skip some portions and it would be nice to have some OAVs that put them back in. Man that would be fun.), and Oreimo is about to finish, so those are jobs done right. But Little Busters is hanging in the wind, as is JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Haruhi, Full Metal Panic, Umineko, Da Capo III, Index, Railgun, Hayate no Gotoku, Kaminomi, Working, Baka to Test, Papa no Iukoto, Sword Art Online, Rurouni Kenshin, Bleach, Spice and Wolf, History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi, and Dragonball Kai. They could use this time to search for and find surefire hits from among the newer series, and then give them time enough to grow that you can adapt more than just 12 episodes of them at a time.
How nice would it have been if Hataraku Maou-sama had been 24 episodes instead of 12? There was plenty of source material to work with. If you don't give your series at least 24 episodes, it will never amount to anything. Ideally, you'd make 48 episodes of every series to really give them a chance to shine. Look at Index-Railgun. We're about to hit 100 episodes and it has only now shown off how great it can truly be. It's always given flashes of the potential that was revealed in this Sisters arc, but the Sisters arc was the first truly perfect production. Each season of Pretty Cure lasts around 48 episodes, which covers an entirely different story from the one before or after it. 48 is about the right number of episodes required to tell a good story. Judging by the quality of Pretty Cure at #1, I think they've got their pacing down right. Going over this limit is in no way a bad thing, but if you are longer than this I think it's important to include 'arcs' in your story where your characters do reach definitive ends to at least some plot points each session. Dragonball was a very long series, but it was satisfying because there were clear arc breaks between Frieza, Cell and Buu. You can take it as simply three separate stories without worrying too much about what came before. One Piece is very good about having a new story for each island they visit which generally takes the same depth of time to fulfill.
If you go under this limit, you face one of two severe problems though. If you go under by just not solving the problems raised in the story, it's extremely frustrating to everyone, like with what happened to Haruhi Suzumiya. But if you go under by making the story simple enough to solve in 12 or 24 episodes, you end up having a low-calorie story that simply doesn't satisfy anyone. Natsuiro Kiseki was a perfectly paced, 12 episode story, whose only flaw is that it was so short and so simple that there was really nothing to latch onto and get excited about. Any problem that can be solved in 12 episodes just isn't that big a problem. Any character that can be characterized in 12 episodes just isn't that deep a character. Any setting that can be explored in 12 episodes just isn't that detailed a setting. When a series truly is bigger than its allotted episodes, it tends to spill over into different media -- Madoka Magica got new manga series and movies, and Angel Beats is getting a new visual novel, as well as a light novel and manga spinoffs. For a series that really does contain itself to 12 episodes worth of material, it's guaranteed to be piffling in content.
What I'm getting at is Kiniro Mosaic and Kitakubu can enter my rankings with just 12 episode seasons, but they'll always be at the bottom of the pack. As more and more series enter the competition, these short series will only be competing with each other, utterly unable to match the big boys with their 100 episode epics. It's like we are watching the emergence of a class system in anime. The poor, short stories always stay at the bottom and the rich, long series always gravitate to the top. The cyclotron of length.
If you know you'll never be competitive from the outset, why bother? Wouldn't it be better to take larger bets on fewer series, so they have an honest chance at #1? I feel like as time passes, all my favorite series will be decades old, whereas all my 'runners-up' will be from the current year. It didn't use to be this way. New, good series were being introduced in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, etc. But 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 have nothing they can point to in the top 10. You have to wait until #15 when you get Katanagatari before this decade did anything truly vital for anime.
When is the next Fairy Tail? A truly long series that will someday eclipse One Piece or Dragon Ball? Maybe this is just the age of small dreams, where nothing big can ever get done. Sort of like how it takes a million years to build the One World Trade Center in New York but only one year to build the Empire State Building. This decade has been very good at making charming short series, like Girls und Panzer, but totally irrelevant when to comes to making memorable masterpieces. If Sword Art Online gets a second season, that would change. But that's only if Sword Art Online does, and at this point it doesn't look like it ever will. Otherwise, what on Earth are they waiting for?