Many stories have a linear and chronological progression under most circumstances.
Of course, there are stories that follow an anachronic order. These nonlinear or disjointed narratives sort of jump all over the place as events are portrayed or covered out-of-order. Several anime series that fall under this category include Durarara!!, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, the Bakemonogatari franchise, and Princess Principal. The topics covered in this post still applies to these series but to a lesser scale due to how said series alternate between progressing linearly and nonlinearly.
As for the other sort of series with a more sequential development, there are (in my mind) three major narrative devices that serve to distort time to varying degrees. Each of these devices should be used sparingly since excessive misuse can harm the pacing and progression of a narrative.
Frequently used to depict training or moments of daily life, montages often speed up the story by condensing a (sometimes lengthy) period of time into a collection of scenes. As a result, the viewer doesn’t have to sit through and watch the characters have fun or diligently practice for minutes or even hours on end.
The scenes in montages can either be animated or can consist of still frame images. Montages can also be voiced but are often not voiced since instrumental music usually take center stage instead.
Overusing montages can cause viewers to believe the studio is skimping out on animation and/or voice acting and can cause viewers to decry the anime series as a slideshow and not playing to the medium’s strengths.
Examples of series where montages are frequently used: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! infamously included a montage that was well over a minute long in its first episode.
Time skips occur within the series (typically between seasons or arcs) and has the story jumping forward by a considerable amount of time that can range somewhere between months and years. Anything shorter isn’t a time skip (in my book) because the status quo remains more or less the same and most stories simply lack the time needed to cover every event in clear detail. Imagine if a series consistently followed the protagonist’s life by the minute. The pace would be incredibly slow and probably not fun to watch! Minor leaps (that amount to days or weeks being glossed over) are thus acceptable for smooth storytelling without being classified as a time skip.
Mid-series time skips can mark the endpoint of an anime adaptation as well as the beginning of another season if they get greenlighted. Code Geass would be one such example since there’s a time skip of about a year that happens between season 1 and season 2. Time skips are also a favorite place to shove in filler so the story can become more padded out. Furthermore, time skips are an easy way to allow the creator to display character aging or to play with different character designs.
Overusage of time skips can leave the audience feeling that the story is too rushed and that characters have changed too much without a good enough reason if the character development has largely happened during the aforementioned time skips.
Knight’s & Magic have featured several time skips thus far. It allowed for the show to get to the juicy bits very quickly at the expense of characterization, pacing, and realism (since the characters seemed to face no consequences for their actions).
The audience gets to see events that happened before the current episode’s setting and time frame. This serves to provide backstory, establish characterization and character development, as well as explain events that were perhaps only referenced in the current storyline (i.e. the characters warn the protagonist not to mess up like last time and then the flashback shows what exactly happened last time).
However, the circumstances behind said narrative device can vary between individuals and series. Perhaps the character is experiencing a flashback through a dream or the character is telling a story to let other characters, and the audience, know what happened, or the character is simply recollecting what happened in the past.
The context flashbacks play within a narrative can also wildly differ. Perhaps the events in the flashback parallel what’s happening right now. Maybe the story starts in media res and the flashback explains how the characters arrived in their present situation. The character might be struggling in a battle until the character experiences a flashback that shows some of the training the character went through in order to develop the technique that will enable said character to turn the tides and win. Sometimes the character will recollect what happened earlier only for it to be revealed that said character is an unreliable narrator and that the outcome for the events shown in the flashback are different compared to what actually happened. And then there are the infamous flashback episodes where entire episodes consist of just flashbacks.
When an anime series makes extravagant use of flashbacks, the viewers are prone to getting bored, wanting the series to get back to the main storyline, and deeming the excessive amount of flashbacks as a lazy way to provide backstory and characterization.
Examples include most anime adaptations of light novels.
I believe that all of these narrative devices (montages, time skips, and flashbacks) hold merit and can be used to make a narrative more interesting. Problems arise, however, when said techniques are overused. As always, the upper and lower limits of overusage are very subjective and some viewers may think a series uses too many flashbacks while others may deem the amount of flashbacks to be acceptable. Viewers may also believe a montage was poorly executed while other viewers may consider the montage to be tasteful.
It’s definitely alright to hold strong opinions regarding these narrative devices, but please be able to supporting your stance with reasons that extend beyond “that’s just how I feel about it.” Also, please try to be accepting of other viewers’ opinions, as well, since they’re allowed to have their own beliefs.
I hope this was at least slightly informative.