Like any other form of television, anime can and do have individual seasons that see drastic changes in quality. Sometimes they start out great… only to see worsening animation or writing. Other times, though, they start out weak and come back stronger — either by looking noticeably better, or by adding subtle details that just make things “click.”
Today we’re looking at five shows that managed to pull off the rarer of the two cases. We’re here to celebrate the ones that improved during their respective second seasons! Sometimes it was a slight tweak in direction or writing, or even a complete change of studios. But any way you look at it, all these shows finished in a better place than where they started. And I wholly recommend each one, despite the time required to get to the good stuff.
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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU started back in 2013 as a light novel adaptation by studio Brian’s Base. Seven whole years later, it is finally reaching its conclusion. Having been so long since this show started, you’d probably be tempted to go back to that first season to see what got viewers on board in the first place. While I still love every part of this show, this first season was harder to watch than I expected. Although it does retain the spirit of the source material, and most of the writing and voice acting both still hold up, the first season suffers from production values that made it look like it came from the previous decade. Overall it felt like a show forcing itself into a standard high school romantic comedy shaped hole. What makes SNAFU so great is that it isn’t that at all.
The 2015 followup season of SNAFU fixed these issues by… changing almost everything. It’s to the point where it effectively became a brand-new show. Studio Feel took over production, new director and producers righted the ship, and the only things that really carried over were the scriptwriter, voice cast, and musical composer. All these changes resulted in what was originally a weirdly charming — but at times awkward — show transformed into one of the best anime dramas of the 2010s. Sure, the comedy was toned down a bit, but all the core character and story themes entered the forefront, showcasing exactly what makes SNAFU stand out from its contemporaries. Season 2 was such a step up in both style and execution that it took five years to get the creative team that made it back together. And the wait’s been worth it, with Season 3 living up to the high benchmark its predecessor made.
Full Metal Panic!
This romantic comedy is perhaps the most interesting entry on this list. It arguably got two second seasons: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu and Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. But before we talk about those, let’s discuss the first season.
2002’s Full Metal Panic is one of the all-time classic high school comedies. Albeit an unwieldy one at times, as it tries to balance slapstick shenanigans with giant robot fights set during a cold war that didn’t end in the 1990s (you read that right). Although the animation and direction can be a bit stilted at times, it was more than balanced out by being a rare anime series where the dub was superior to the sub. The English voice cast has better chemistry and comedic timing by far. That said, when I got through the original FMP series, I was left thinking “If this show just focused on either the comedy or the drama, it could be a damn sight better.”
Enter its two follow-ups. Both of which were some of Kyoto Animation’s earliest projects, and each managed to do exactly what I wished for in different ways. Fumoffu is a straight-up comedy (while not strictly speaking canon). Whereas The Second Raid is a more direct sequel that adapts more of the source material. Thus it devotes itself to being a full-on drama. Not only is the animation a noticeable improvement in both shows, but so is the direction, with each sequel directed by the late and great Yasuhiro Takemoto, who did a masterful job creating two distinct entries that played to FMP’s core strengths. While the most recent fourth FMP series unfortunately didn’t continue this streak, these two sequels upgraded Full Metal Panic from being an enjoyable, uneven show into a classic 2000s anime franchise.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I know what you’re thinking. “Hang on! Isn’t this whole series technically a glow-up of a pre-existing show?” Yes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is itself a redux of a series that started out back in 2003. It even retains most of the same staff as before. However, it must be said that the one weakness of this excellent series is its first season, which faithfully adapts all of the source material… again. It covers much of the same ground as the previous show — not only going through a story many fans had already watched, but at a faster pace that shortens and minimizes key plot points. It’s a creative decision I can understand, but the result leaves entirely new viewers wondering what all the fuss is about. Thankfully, Brotherhood Season 2 is where the show slows back down, as it starts to cover the original manga left out of the previous incarnation.
Brotherhood earns its reputation as a sprawling, dark fantasy epic spanning many characters and storylines (with the added bonus of an ending that isn’t utter crap). Season 2 introduces many of the key players that go on to play pivotal roles throughout the rest of the show’s run. And even though the only real change from the previous season is the improved pacing, that much works wonders, since the show is damn near faultless in every other regard. The writing, direction, musical score, voice acting in sub and dub, and animation still hold up today as some of Studio Bones’ best work.
It remains a controversial move on Bones’s part to redo the first half of their original version, since it feels like an inferior and even unnecessary retread that doesn’t reward returning viewers. Not to mention it risks alienating newcomers. But trust me; get through the first 13 episodes. The remaining 51 are some of the all-time best of the genre and era.
Like various other comedies, Konosuba works best with a bit of inside knowledge going into it. This is a direct subversion of the isekai genre that dominated the 2010s. That said, when a joke requires in-depth explanation for it to fully land, it probably needs work. That’s why Konosuba’s first season didn’t quite “do it” for me as well as it did for others — especially those more familiar with (and sick of) isekais.
The characters are fun, with all of them being archetypes dialed up to the point of near parody, and Studio Deen’s notorious production values play to the show’s strength, with the characters looking rough on purpose to accentuate the comedy. But it still felt at times like it relyied too much on the trappings of genre. That meant, if you weren’t too familiar with isekais, this might’ve been “just okay.”
Konosuba Season 2, however, is not okay. Instead, Season 2 excels, as the show realizes everyone’s on-board with its premise, allowing it to reach its full potential. All the voice acting noticeably improves, with every performance making it clear that all the actors are having an absolute riot with their roles. The writing also feels much more comfortable with going all out — both by making its characters feel more genuine and allowing them to sink to hilarious new lows. While it does skip over some key moments from the source material, it’s a risk that pays off, with Konosuba Season 2 being what elevated the series into one of the best anime comedies of the 2010s.
This one’s a bit… tricky. Space Dandy is more like an anthology series than a standard serialized storyline. You could completely mix up the entire order of the whole series (apart from the first and last episodes) and wouldn’t lose a whole lot in translation. Best as I can put it, though, Season 1 felt like Space Dandy wasn’t quite comfortable with itself. The storytelling felt too focused on establishing its universe and characters — despite outright stating this is a series where anything goes and anything can happen. Case in point: the premiere ends with the whole gang dying. There just isn’t a strong reason to spend most of a season acquainting us with how things “work.”
I’ve only rewatched a couple episodes from Space Dandy Season 1. On the flip side, I’ve revisited most of Season 2 nearly half a decade after the show first aired. Space Dandy Season 2 is one that just somehow “feels” better overall. Meanwhile, the animation is great throughout, the anthology format doesn’t go anywhere, and the stories are just as zany and diverse as they were in Season 1 (if not more so).
This might just be by happenstance. Perhaps all the good one-offs simply ended up in the second season. Though I personally think the Season 2 sticks out more and stays with viewers afterwards because it’s just a little more experimental than its predecessor. Many of the stories and genres explored in the first chunk are ones we’ve seen before (time loops, space races, the protagonist acting as a temporary caretaker to a young girl, etc.). Season 2 either explores stuff we’re not as familiar with (like Dandy exploring a planet that’s literally purgatory), or covers well-trodden ground in better detail, with a twist (Dandy trying to find closure with an ex-girlfriend, while he and the crew navigate an invading two-dimensional universe… Again, I’m not making this up).
Even when Season 2 sports a weak episode, it always has something that makes it memorable — such as the best music track in the whole series. Space Dandy might still go down as Shinichiro Watanabe’s most divisive work. Yet Season 2 on its own easily makes the show as wonderfully ambitious and memorable as his previous endeavors, Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop.