The Sensei Next Door: Seasonal Lingo Edition

I was discussing this with a friend the other day and realized not everyone is familiar with this terminology, so I figured I’d write up a little crash course in how to discuss anime shows, episode counts, and air dates.

As with U.S. shows, the entire run of an anime is called the series. However, unlike major U.S. networks, which split their shows into seasons generally running from September to May, anime programming is divided into four broadcast seasons which roughly match the four calendar seasons. As such, you’ll often hear people referring to them by these terms (such as the “Summer 2014” season).

The term “season” gets a little murky when referring to a specific series season. For example, Yowamushi Pedal ran from (approx.) September to May, meaning it ran through the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. However, because it was planned to run this long from the beginning, the studio and marketers (and by extension, the viewers) consider this the “first season” of the series.

YowaPeda went off the air during the Summer season but was popular enough to get renewed for more episodes beginning in the Fall, and this new batch of episodes will be considered the “second season.” In other words, a series season doesn’t necessarily match the broadcast seasons, which can lead to some confusing conversations.

To help deal with the ambiguity of the term “season,” the anime community uses the term cour to refer to a single Winter/Spring/etc. season of a specific series. It’s a fairly flexible term that refers, in general, to a three-month block of television consisting of about 10-13 episodes.

This helps people to define a show’s length, so that you can refer to Paranoia Agent as a “single cour” series while referring to Cowboy Bebop as a “two-cour” series. When U.S. companies release DVD/BD box sets, they generally divide the shows up into these cours, so that each “Part” contains about 13 episodes. For me, cour is a particularly useful term because you don’t have to remember the exact episode count of every show you watch; instead, you can just generalize it as being one-cour or two-cour and people know that means “around 13” or “around 26” episodes, respectively.

Additionally, if a show takes a season off (e.g., it airs in the Spring and the Fall), then we refer to that as a split-cour series. Sometimes the studio will advertise this second half as “Season 2,” but other times it’s just considered a continuation of the first season. Again, the term “season” can get kinda murky, which is why “cour” is such a helpful word to know.

(Linguistic nerds – and hey, I’m one of you – can also check out this nifty post for details and speculation on the unofficial etymology of “cour.”)

It’s worth noting that if a show has been running continuously for more than a year (e.g, Hunter x Hunter), people tend to stop keeping track of cours or seasons and just describe the different major storylines as arcs. Some shows fit this model really well (again, HxH), others less so (FMA: Brotherhood). 

So, to summarize:

  • Series – Entire run of a show

  • Season (broadcast) – The calendar season (Winter, Spring, Fall, and Summer) in which a show is scheduled to air

  • Season (series) – A set of episodes defined by the studio/marketers, often based on how long the show ran without taking a break

  • Cour – The length of a broadcast season (about three months, or 10-13 episodes)

  • Arc – A major overarching storyline, usually united by a common plot, location, or antagonist

And that’s pretty much it! Hopefully that cleared up any confusion you might have had when touring anime forums. If you feel like I missed something or if you have questions about a particular show, feel free to hit that Ask button or sound off in the comments. Happy viewing!

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