The Social Structure of the Anime Industry

How does the anime industry look like if we try putting its abstract social structure into form, without knowing a whole lot about it? I posted a web app this morning that tries to accomplish just that. It’s a bit simpler than the image render below, but it’s got the benefit of interaction. Be patient, loading may take a while!

Anime Creators Network
The Social Network

So to make a long story short, I tried visualizing how staffers from different anime projects are connected to each other. I wanted to see if there is structure to their social network and how that might benefit our understanding of certain communities forming within it. The process involved querying ANN’s Anime Encyclopedia for relevant staff information. All that was needed after that was a bit of grunt work to build the social graph. Each dot in it represents a professional who is credited as having worked on anime. Each line connecting any two dots is to imply that the two professionals represented by them have worked on at least one anime together. In graph theory, the dots and the lines are called vertices and edges. In this graph visualization, dot size increases proportionally to the number of edges that a vertex has. Color intensity of edges tries to convey the level of collaboration between two persons, meaning that if they worked on many shows together, the color of their edge would be more intense.

While it would be nice to know just how much interaction there is between staffers of different companies, I’ve taken the liberty to simplify the model by assuming that everybody who has been credited for a certain anime title knows everybody else credited for that title. In the real world, an in-betweener working for a subcontractor is very unlikely to ever interact with an anime’s main producer, for example. But I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine that it would not be impossible for him to do so if he wanted to. It’s funny to think about these loosely defined connections, because in my country of Slovenia most favors and business transactions are facilitated by knowing a guy who sort of knows the guy who has the thing that we want. In light of that, this graph should be taken as a low-effort approach to solving the problem. For serious researchers I suggest strengthening the dataset with more and better data. The edges especially need more relevant attributes.

Some of the questions may be a bit too hard to answer without looking at the raw data though, so let’s do that right now. Who are the most connected people in the industry anyway, going by the metric that we just described? Who can make favors happen the fastest?

  1. Tsuruoka Yota (sound director): 1448 edges
  2. Sakata Junichi (director): 1426 edges
  3. Mima Masafumi (sound director): 1399 edges
  4. Taniguchi Moriyasu (animation director): 1360 edges
  5. Okazaki Yukio (episode director): 1332 edges
  6. Honda Yasunori (sound director): 1328 edges

To me it’s not all that surprising that the most connected people would be directors, but them being sound directors I thought was interesting nonetheless. Still, there are other connectivity metrics to consider. If we wanted to know how easy it would be for a person to contact anyone from the industry, anyone at all, regardless of the degree of separation, we would need to think of something else. Here, a closeness centrality measure comes in handy. Taking that over node degree measure, the ranking above doesn’t change all that much, but a producer named Okuda Seiji ladders up and passes Taniguchi.

The web app requires some patience to work with. It’s a bit slow due to the fact that the browser needs to draw whopping 11828 vertices and 563177 edges from a 50 MB dataset on a single thread. Do note that the graph omits voice actors and foreign language release staffers. The former mostly due to the fact that my computer’s memory is limited, not to mention all desktop software that I tried had problems visualizing more than a million edges. The latter because I wanted to focus on the Japanese side.

If you’re interested in the code that I’ve written for this project, take a look at the GitHub repo. I used Gephi for visualizing the graph. As always, comments and errata are appreciated.


Movie Review: Kimi No Na Wa

Over the last week I’ve seen a few people shaking heads or simply being overly skeptic of the hype surrounding Shinkai Makoto’s latest feature-length film. I’m usually put off by hype as well, and where I’m currently staying at it was impossible to avoid. Tokyo’s trains and buildings have been plastered with advertisements for it, big and small, Akihabara’s stores had the trailer playing on repeat, and after the Japanese premiere a few days ago many have decided to crown Shinkai as the next Miyazaki Hayao. However, after mustering up the will to buy the damn ticket for tonight’s show, I can confirm that Your Name justifies a lot of what is being voiced about the film. It was that good.

Kimi no Na wa is a story about a boy and a girl, Taki and Mitsuha. The former lives in the megalopolis of Tokyo, the latter in a beautiful rural town near Hida city. Mitsuha in particular is tired of her seemingly boring life and can’t wait to get out of the boonies. Her wish comes true when heavenly circumstances make possible for the boy and the girl to switch places, namely through body swapping. How does the pair deal with this sudden and unexpected change? And what should they do with their new set of extremities? Can they touch them or not?

The plot is laid out to us in the first three minutes of the movie, suggesting there will be no room for pretense. Basically, the viewer is let in on exactly what he’s going to get. Later on the major twist complicates things quite a bit, making the story into a bigger postmodern fantasy than it seems at the offset, but the general direction of where it’s supposed to be going doesn’t change. The first third of the movie is loads of fun. Watching the two getting used to their new bodies and unfamiliar lives produced many a chuckle. I was surprised that they went for boob jokes right from the get-go, still they were all made in good taste. I overheard a conversation among women in the audience who thought Mitsuha’s sister Yotsuha was a cutie, which is something I can wholeheartedly agree with. Her no-funny-business antics especially make her a real treat. Taki’s character is at its best when Mitsuha is occupying his body, otherwise he’s not that much different from your regular Japanese high school boy archetype. I do agree that him occupying Mitsuha’s body is crucial to her charm, and to her development later on. Though I don’t want to make this into a He versus She thing, I felt like her core character design was simply more interesting. I mean, a priestess whose sacred duty is to produce sake by chewing rice with her mouth? I’m in love again.

The following is a spoiler that I cannot avoid if I want to be more constructive, but the biggest gripe I see people having will be the rules and mechanics of communication between overlapping worlds. The main characters are happily switching places with one another, but after a while the need to meet up in person begins pressing on them. Sounds trivial enough, but here’s the problem: the memories of the time they spend in the other person’s body quickly fade away. The feeling, as they describe it, is similar to waking up from an elaborate dream that you can’t fully remember. This limitation makes it hard for them to write down essentials such as their home addresses, or even their names.

Of course there’s a reason for the way things are, but the real problem I see are the mechanics they used to bypass them. By the end they are both grasping for straws to solve the big problem, to the point they could be seen as dabbling in the occult if Shintoistic aesthetics weren’t part of the movie. The solutions they need to reach are all symbolic and sort of just dangling right in front of them. The Miyamizu lineage of female priestesses, their mouth-chewed sake ceremony, the grandmother’s perception of knotting as flow of time, the twilight effect, and the ever-so-potent power of love. The movie leaves Taki no choice but to tunnel-vision on some of these without any real guesswork, which is really the only problem I have with the story’s progression.

Let’s turn to animation. Some cuts, like the animated time lapses of Tokyo’s skylines, were so beautiful you couldn’t help but tear up. Tokyo Station and Yoyogi Park were out on full display, not to mention the gorgeous rural scenery from Mitsuha’s town. Character animation was what you’d expect it to be from a production of this caliber, still the backgrounds and effects work is where I’d say the money is at. I remember getting a bit distracted by the animation switching from hand-drawn to rendered in a few places, however with the amount of detail put into every frame you can write off this complaint as ultimately nitpicky.

The music was okay. It wasn’t bad or anything, but nothing exceptional to write home about either. The RADWIMPS vocal though, for some reason one of the songs is still playing in my head on repeat, and it’s getting super annoying. Maybe because the vocal reminds me of BUMP OF CHICKEN.

Okay, now that we’ve covered basically everything pertaining to the movie itself, there are a couple of related things that I want to talk about. First, I feel like I have to restate a few things that I said recently, namely about anime productions that use real-world locations for modeling their settings. It’s no secret that Shinkai himself uses them quite often, but to tell you the truth it’s a practice that I, as a fan of Japanese animation, have silently been brewing contempt for. Photographs of real locations used not as tools for inspiration, but rather shameless production materials have been trending in the anime production business for the past ten years. The resulting backgrounds tend to look great, the process makes production easier, and the fans love them. Satou Dai, better known for his work on Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell, has in the past expressed negativity toward these types of productions. For the aforementioned reasons he compared them to a drug, one that takes “creative” out of “creative process.”

Over the years I’ve grown to agree with the old man, because to be quite frank some of the recent productions have gone way overboard with promoting tourism. Take Amanchu for example. I haven’t seen the show, I only got to see a few posters, and I can tell you those were enough to turn me off completely. On them, the main character is making poses as if she were a tourist guide who’d love to show me around, rather than a character who cares about what happens in her own life. However, now that I’ve spent a few weeks in Tokyo I got to experience something close to what I imagine local residents get to experience when watching such shows. Seeing the same skyscraper scenery, riding the same trains on the Yamanote Line, and experiencing the same Tokyoite consumerist culture as pictured in the anime I can understand why Japanese fans love it. It’s one thing to look at the backgrounds, think they’re pretty, then visit the locations out of curiosity, but it’s something else entirely if you see the redrawn “Fun! Tokyo!” posters that advertised this very fucking movie to you weeks before you actually saw it! Backgrounds modeled after real places form a deep emotional bond with fans who are living out their everyday in those same places. I still don’t have to like the lazy principals behind the practice, or where it’s taken the anime genre as a whole, but I can understand why it’s so hard to let go of it.

The other thing that I wanted to touch up on was the Shinkai versus Miyazaki debate. I’ve seen every major Shinkai work to date, and one thing that is strikingly obvious from the evolution of his opus is that the guy has slowly warmed up to the idea of more accessible storylines. His first notable work was Voices of a Distant Star, which was a sci-fi flick made for otaku by an otaku. Beyond the Clouds was a beautiful, thought-provoking work, yet in spite of that many people don’t seem to like it. Why? Because overall it’s a clinically boring experience. And, don’t get me wrong, 5cm Per Second was visually stunning and everything, but it was still depressing as all hell.

Then we get to Children Who Chase Lost Voices. I loved this one for its clear and precisely laid out story. The artist took a step back, seeing with far better clarity where he shouldn’t overburden the viewer. His symbolism was universally understood, yet remained intellectually inoffensive. The Garden of Words that followed was short and sweet, to which Shinkai added a touch of provocation. At the same time, he kicked it up a notch with the artistry.

Shinkai directed his best stories when he wasn’t being too selfish with what he wanted to say. Miyazaki was the same in that regard, with Howl’s Moving Castle being his last widely appreciated work. Both of these guys became the talk of the street for their feel-good movies. They both have their own quirky artistic wishes, and it’s hard to assign rank whose are worse, but I think you get the point. Shinkai’s stories have changed for the better. Taki and Mitsuha may have struggled reaching each other through the fabric separating their realities, but at least they didn’t let themselves be thrown into utter despair. In contrast, the flacid protagonist from Byosoku 5cm simply chose to remain miserable. Miyazaki’s self-indulgence produced similar defects. In Howl’s Moving Castle he made the world of magic and wonder accessible to both children and adults, unlike in Ponyo from which he barred basically everyone over the age of nine.

What I’m trying to say is that the director standing in front of us now has finally matured. He doesn’t get hell-bent on portraying the extremes of his pet peeves anymore. Your Name has a story that was a joy to watch, fast-paced with zero downtime and little room for the director wallowing in self-reflection. Aside from the storyboard, the movie’s staff demonstrated a level of technical proficiency which is currently unrivaled in the feature-length film space. Not by Kyoto Animation and not by Studio Ghibli. Skeptics who aren’t prepared to dethrone Miyazaki just yet might be able to argue against the growing chorus of Shinkai supporters, but their struggle is missing the point. Shinkai Makoto is still a relatively young guy who still has time to polish his storytelling and steady his guiding hand, which is why I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring out in the coming decades.

Onegai! Pilgrimage to Lake Kizaki

Every anime fan who has been one longer than one boring summer will remember that very fateful moment when they have taken their red pill that set them tumbling down the rabbit hole of otaku obsessions. What instigated that moment for me was an anisong.

Seasonal anime offerings from summer 2003 weren’t that outstanding, with perhaps Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? being the rare exception. Even though some might argue there was critical merit to Ikkitousen and Divergence Eve, for today’s standards they are run-of-the-mill shows at best. But it was a boring summer and people had to watch something. Personally, I got fixated on Onegai! Twins, which was your typical summer romance show. It featured a standard self-insertion protagonist and two cute girls. Drama ensues, shipping commences, with a potential ending involving a threesome looming over every fan’s mind. Of course, it was a wet dream. Drama gets resolved, best girl gets the protag’s dick, the loser gets to call him onii-chan. Nothing too crazy. I was more invested in the show because at the time I got an urge to translate some anime. I picked this one partially because a friend was already working on it for a release in a different target language. He helped me get started. But the reason why I even noticed the show was because I fucking fell in love with the opening song.

Second Flight was the brainchild of two very talented composers, Takase Kazuya and Nakazawa Tomoyuki. Takase is also president of I’ve Sound, a music label responsible for many of that day’s popular eroge songs, including theme songs for the Baldr games series. Many eroge sold on hype alone, of which I’ve Sound brought plenty to the table when it was on board. I was impressed porn could have pop songs that rivaled those playing on MTV. Even though they found niche success, the music collective produced minor stars such as Kotoko and Kawada Mami, with whom they released their songs under labels such as Lantis, Rondo Robe, Geneon Entertainment and Warner Bros Japan.

Please! was a media mix project centered mainly around two television anime, Onegai! Teacher, which was released in 2002, and the aforementioned Onegai! Twins. The latter wasn’t exactly a sequel, however main characters of both shows inhabited the same rural setting, with some side characters playing minor roles in both. There was another show released in 2012 titled Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was de facto a spiritual successor to the series. Even though it shared the same summer aesthetic and the same romance-with-a-girl-from-space theme as one of the previous two shows, I was bothered by the lack of a very specific ingredient that would have truly sold it for me.

It was the setting. NatsuMachi’s setting was modeled mostly after real locations from Matsumoto city. Teacher and Twins had a few of those taken there, notably for the school and for the romantic observatory, but the majority of their background scenery was taken from locations around the beautiful lake Kizaki, which lies around 30 kilometers north of Matsumoto. Not to take anything away from Matsumoto, but my nostalgia wasn’t being fueled by it, and so NatsuMachi kind of ruined the whole spiritual successor thing for me.

I’m not sure anymore when I discovered that Kizaki was not just an abstract ideal of summer Japanese beauty but an actual, geographical place. When I did, however, I took a vow to visit if a chance to travel to Japan should arise. I managed to do so a few days ago.

Please! Twins House
The House

The intro above starts with the three main characters noticing a particular house that was being shown on television. As far as I can guess, the exterior of the house is a patchwork of different houses from the same neighborhood, but the model location with a house similar to the one in the anime does exist. The angle from the road above the house, along with the neighbor’s view pretty much confirm it as the real deal.

Please! Twins House Road
View from the road coming toward the House
Please! Twins House Neighbor
View from the neighbor’s drive-in, denied

The nice Kotoko opening starts and we’re treated to the location below. For the longest time I thought this was a mountain road, but as it turns out it’s a walking trail along the lake’s eastern bank. The white fence on the left separates the trail from the lake.

Please! Twins Bank
Walking trail along the lake’s shore

Next up is the park, which is located behind a motorboat rental shop and restaurant. It’s where I purchased a plate of “Marie TWINS” curry and a bowl of “Fushigi-chan” ice cream. The benches, the swings, and the children’s slide are all at the same spot.

Please! Twins Park Benches
The lake is hiding behind the swampy plants
Please! Twins Park Swings
In the cropped-out foreground there was another swing

Facing the House right across the lake is a railroad crossing. I’ve got lucky snapping this one just as the Oito Line was active. I definitely recommend accessing the valley with the train from Itoigawa for the scenic views. Train otaku were aboard as well, which is enough of a confirmation for me that the ride has built itself a reputation.

Please! Twins Line Crossing
Right next to the famous Uminokuchi Station

And finally, the Slide. There was this foreigner right next to me, if you can believe it, that volunteered to have a few awkward poses taken wearing an Onegai! Teacher T-shirt. What a nice and handsome guy he was.

Please! Twins Park Slide
I had to wait some before taking this one, children were playing

Obviously I have more photos of other locations, some even that were specific to Onegai! Teacher, but I’m saving them for a special occasion. You should definitely check out a few photo galleries of other pilgrims who visited before me, like this one. Some of them came more prepared than I did; I was working the field with a mere phone camera. Though let it be known, I visited the same locations. Some of the pictures require breaking trespassing laws. If you decide to go on a pilgrimage, don’t do that. Then again, me loitering around the House while the owners were at home can’t be socially acceptable behavior either.

The series’ locations are great for beginner pilgrims. Do your research, rewatch the shows, take your own screenshots. And for God’s sake don’t look at the maps with Google Street View beforehand; you might as well be spoiling yourself. Take a walk around the lake, it will take you maybe two leisurely hours. You’ll find pretty much every location there is with ease. Local residents are friendly and helpful. They know what we come there for anyway. Visit Herikawa Shop, it truly exists. Stop by all three of the train stations near the lake. You can write down how much you love anime in their log books.

The weather did screw up my schedule to visit Matsumoto, but I’ll live. I don’t like the stay in Japan as much as I thought I would, mostly because of the oven-like heat and me naturally sweating like a pig, but Kizaki alone made the whole visit worth it. Next time I visit it’ll be me taking my future kids camping there, but I’m looking forward to it already.

Comic Market 90 Impressions

It’s my first visit to Japan and so it was natural to attend Comike as well, which ended just a few hours ago. Seeing Tokyo Big Sight for the first time up close in person was a bit overwhelming, I honestly didn’t expect it. But I put off this moment for far too long, I’m glad I finally decided to go.

Everything about the event is true. The crowds are so big it’s hard to imagine, yet human traffic stayed orderly on the premises and all the way along the Rinkai train line. Porn and PG-13 content balance each other out, with the latter having more interesting stuff to look at. I’m sad I didn’t take a proper photo of Arduino and other boards with VOCALOID characters printed on them, it was the coolest shit ever.

Also, Comic Market history records don’t lie – both men and women are equally represented at the event.

The cosplayers, I didn’t pay much attention to them, but people who are into that around here appreciate a very strange aesthetic. Most professional-looking cosplays – the ones every other Japanese cosplayer aspires to reach – were just boring (see here). You had perfect replications of fictional characters on a human body, yet they all looked so jarring. Perhaps they got too close to uncanny valley? Perfect cosplay like that can hardly fall under cuteness aesthetics of Japan. This is something I’ll have to think more about.

More on matters of porn, works like Genshiken and recently SaeKano have helped to create an image of a Japanese otaku who doesn’t judge others for their unorthodox tastes, because hey we all have a kinky fetish or two, right? However, I’ve overheard enough “kimochi waruis” in porn sections of East Hall to say that there is no respect. Japanese otaku just keep their opinions to themselves a bit more than their western counterparts do. But I guess that’s as much as you can expect from society.

Other than that, it’s an event for mostly shopping and small talk with creators, so it’s hard to say it’s otaku paradise. Industry booths had new anime trailers and lots of overpriced merchandise, but you know all that already. The people that make the event, the creators, cosplayers, and volunteers have the most fun, and unless you have a battle plan ready and lots of cash to spend – basically you create a game for yourself – Comike might as well just be an overcrowded shopping mall.

I was moved, impressed and disillusioned by the event all at once. But I’ll probably go again, next time paying more attention to circles of interest prior to the event.

Anime Fandom Has Lost Its Compass

The recent decades of anime and manga outside of Japan are characterized by the struggle to gain overseas popularity and to capture the imagination of western literary criticism. Throughout the years the fandom was put under pressure to develop mechanisms for fending off against the prejudices fueled by past Japanese-American relations and the cultural legacy of cartoons being degraded to children’s entertainment. Indeed, history doesn’t look all that pretty, but ultimately the push against the current bore success.

These days anime and manga have small, but vibrant industries in the western world, providing overseas fans fast and high-quality releases, which are now being streamed on major distribution platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. Business is booming, as is awareness of the medium. Everybody knows what the word anime means, and being a nerd who watches anime among other nerdy things has become sort of fashionable. Fans don’t have to struggle anymore by scavenging for subtitled copies in small comic book shops. We don’t have to camp obscure IRC channels for digital copies anymore, or send money to strange men living in basements with the hope of them returning a working, subtitled VHS copy. We can simply open a video app instead and have whatever we want to watch running on our mobile screens in seconds.

Being a fan of anime is pretty awesome these days. We are getting all these cool new shows and the library of timeless classics is constantly growing. I mean, who wants to go back to meager offerings of the past and poor accessibility? Obviously nobody. However, I do feel that being a fan in those days had its own charm. It was a hobby that forced you to socialize if you wanted your anime fix, which is quite different from these days. Think about that, you had to put in some effort to be able to watch anime. Sticking to the past isn’t desirable for a plethora of reasons, but I do feel that the hobby lost something in the process of shedding the inconveniences. Now that anime is easier to access than ever before, and all the knowledge a regular anime fan wants is right there on various wiki sites, what point is there besides endless consumption? What challenge is the medium going to throw at us next?

I believe that in the past anime fandom shared a common goal. To boil it down, we wanted to make anime more popular so as to benefit from that, but it was a struggle. Every fan of my generation can recall a personal story how he or she needed to explain herself to a layman why she loved what she loved, why this pursuit was no more childish than indulging in other types of entertainment, or why it wasn’t a waste of time. On the other hand, anime and manga’s worldwide accessibility was for the longest time shouldered by fansubbers and hackers, fans themselves, so to speak. I was part of this collective for a few years, and I can vouch that the amount of time and effort that went into fan translating anime almost felt like a full-time job at times. The persecution complex was also strong in our circles, which might have been due to the anti-piracy narrative that was at its strongest a decade ago, or perhaps due to the tight-knit relationship fans had with anime licensing companies. Despite the risks we knew we were on the right side of history, and so we kept on translating and kept on downloading with even more valor.

Another avenue of appeal stemmed from the fact that these mediums stayed mystified for a very long time, no thanks to fans that weren’t very methodical in pursuing knowledge about them, spreading misinformation and folklore along the way. It has taken several generations of Japanese linguistic studies graduates to become quite decent at translating Japanese media. Academia has also started taking a keen interest in them, carefully examining the state of things and clearing up some of the misconceptions that persisted throughout the decades. One misconception that is still relatively prevalent among fans even to this day is that anime is widely appreciated in Japan. Historical record has been set straight for the most part, facts published on Wikipedia with proper sourcing, and so on. Anime and manga have through proper translation practices and research lost most of their exoticism.

Miyazaki Hayao winning an Oscar for Best Animation was an event that ultimately led to the current situation in the West. Corporations have taken over translation and knowledge creation, and so us fans are left with the job of merely consuming the content. We don’t run anime clubs anymore with the intent of promoting anime and spreading otaku knowledge, because anime are popular enough on their own, while the clubs themselves turned into awkward social hubs with no creative output.

I thought long and hard what the “grand narrative” for western anime fandom was supposed to be this decade, what characterizes this generation apart from popular titles, where the “class struggle” lies in and all of that, but I simply can’t see it. Anime fandom these days is just one large parade toward adulthood, whilst older otaku are left to their own private interests. Even us bloggers used to think we were making a difference by writing passionate posts about anime, evangelizing everything that was interesting about the medium and our fandom. But whenever someone tries to do that these days, I start to wonder for how long have we been preaching to the choir.

Anime has become popular! So what are we supposed to be doing now?

Taking a Dump on Mayoiga

I’d like to share a bunch of Tweets that I made after the first episode’s broadcast.

Obvious is one word that perfectly describes Mayoiga. It’s certainly given us drama, but we’re not getting any blood. I mean, who honestly thought Yottsun was dead? Get literate.

Personally, I believe the show was originally conceived as a healing-type anime, aimed at confused teenagers, disillusioned young adults, and people with mental health problems, groups that are well represented among anime fandom. Then Okada came on board and turned this project into a communication anime. Is the audience actually capable of identifying with at least one character from the thirty-odd cast of fuckups? I don’t believe so. But the craziness is enough to get you guys talking about the show. For those who aren’t familiar with communication anime, their point is to create as many new camaraderies among fans, either through clash or cohesion of opinions in online discussions, forming a feeling of shared experience. Basically, everything goes as long as the show trolls as many people into the discussion as possible.

People are creating buzz and having fun, even myself, so where’s the harm? Well, one thing I noticed about these shows is that they tend to have really bad execution. Priorities change when it’s buzz that keeps a production profitable. But the problem is fans aren’t really having fun with the show presented to them. They are having fun talking to each other, and not necessarily about the show itself. After the first few episodes, the show becomes an afterthought. Sure, people still watch it but how many actually like the show for its own strengths? Repeat this a few times with a dozen bad, but popular shows, and kids will realize they don’t need an excuse to hang out with other fans. The lack of outstanding qualities may turn them off from watching anime altogether.

That’s possibly one of the major reasons why anime fandom has such low retention rates.

Fans probably won’t be standing in line to buy this gem on home video, but I’m sure a sizable portion of them bought into the idea that everybody should visit the hidden village for themselves and accept their Nanaki.

Expect real-life bus tours of model villages running throughout the summer. Because making pseudo-friends on sketchy bus tours is what being an anime fan is all about.

MAL’s Most Popular TV Anime Genres

It’s not easy finding an anime show that can be tagged with a single genre. Comedies are almost always romances, and shows portraying school life are almost never about students sitting behind their desks. It’s either mysteries or sports clubs or students fighting other students in exoskeletons or giant robots. So if I say that school life is the most popular genre on MAL, of course you can believe me, then again that tells you almost nothing of the type of anime that dominant fan groups like to watch.

This is a follow-up to my exploration of AniDB’s genre tags. The idea was to take a look at crowdsourced data and see which genres usually stick together. The previous time I basically downloaded info from AniDB about every TV anime starting sometime in the last five years. I calculated how similar anime shows were among themselves in terms of genre information and grouped them accordingly. I was hoping that this grouping would correlate well with how popular the grouped anime are, and while I think the results were aiming in the right direction, I started questioning my methodology and my data source.

This time I tried doing the same, except that I used MyAnimeList’s data. I also changed my approach to similarity scores. Instead of using cosine similarity, which didn’t make much sense from a theoretical standpoint, I employed Jaccard similarity coefficient, which can be used for unweighted genre information. What is Jaccard similarity? Basically, if you have two anime that have the same subset of genres, then their Jaccard similarity score will be the number of genres in this subset divided by the number of genres presented by both. Do this pairwise for every two anime and you get a nice similarity matrix that we can run a clustering algorithm on. This algorithm spits out a grouping of anime titles, which enables us to check which genres are the most popular in each group. Below I present the results of this clustering procedure.


TV Anime Group 1
Titles: 136
Average voters: 57332
Most common genres: 
    1.  comedy           (128 titles)
    2.  school           (118 titles)
    3.  romance          (86 titles)
    4.  shounen          (51 titles)
    5.  ecchi            (48 titles)
    6.  harem            (42 titles)
    7.  supernatural     (28 titles)
    8.  action           (23 titles)

TV Anime Group 2
Titles: 149
Average voters: 57040
Most common genres: 
    1.  action           (145 titles)
    2.  fantasy          (101 titles)
    3.  shounen          (72 titles)
    4.  adventure        (61 titles)
    5.  supernatural     (48 titles)
    6.  comedy           (48 titles)
    7.  magic            (33 titles)
    8.  game             (21 titles)

TV Anime Group 3
Titles: 125
Average voters: 43241
Most common genres: 
    1.  action           (117 titles)
    2.  sci-fi           (72 titles)
    3.  mecha            (37 titles)
    4.  seinen           (26 titles)
    5.  drama            (20 titles)
    6.  super power      (18 titles)
    7.  supernatural     (16 titles)
    8.  adventure        (14 titles)

TV Anime Group 4
Titles: 184
Average voters: 33462
Most common genres: 
    1.  school           (49 titles)
    2.  drama            (43 titles)
    3.  slice of life    (43 titles)
    4.  romance          (40 titles)
    5.  fantasy          (37 titles)
    6.  shoujo           (32 titles)
    7.  supernatural     (31 titles)
    8.  mystery          (26 titles)

TV Anime Group 5
Titles: 110
Average voters: 25340
Most common genres: 
    1.  slice of life    (110 titles)
    2.  comedy           (109 titles)
    3.  school           (46 titles)
    4.  seinen           (27 titles)
    5.  shounen          (8 titles)
    6.  romance          (7 titles)
    7.  drama            (5 titles)
    8.  fantasy          (5 titles)

TV Anime Group 6
Titles: 142
Average voters: 21975
Most common genres: 
    1.  comedy           (142 titles)
    2.  supernatural     (27 titles)
    3.  shounen          (22 titles)
    4.  fantasy          (21 titles)
    5.  mystery          (16 titles)
    6.  romance          (16 titles)
    7.  action           (14 titles)
    8.  drama            (14 titles)


I was working with 846 anime titles and 40 different genre tags. This time I paid special attention to the number of clusters. Because it’s hard to say what the correct number of clusters is (it could be just one, it could be 846 of them), unless certain metrics show solid numbers, such as the silhouette score from the previous time, you have to ask yourself what types of anime should these clusters be having. We obviously want as little clusters as possible so that we can generalize well, while at the same time we want to see popular anime grouped in their own clusters, respective of each title’s genre similarities above all else.

Alongside the anime’s average user rating MAL also lists the number of votes each title has. Casting a vote is an expression of emotional involvement. Proof of this is that the vote count is relatively higher for very good shows and for very bad shows. We can exploit this property and say that shows with a higher vote count were also, most likely, the most watched.

Therefore we model the number of anime clusters along this number. We look at the clusters’ vote count averages and try to maximize them for each cluster by either lowering or increasing the number of clusters. Anime may fall into different clusters as we increase their number, and so too will their respective vote counts.

There was more sorcery involved, but ultimately I settled on there being six clusters that you can see above. Some have less popular importance than others, that’s because popular importance is based on the aforementioned vote count average.

This optimization problem wasn’t a cakewalk, then again I didn’t bother with any mathematical procedure for it. I settled on analyzing the means and medians with the eyeball method. Ask if you want me to go into more detail, but I doubt you do. Also, I had to do some scripting to make all of this work in the first place. Code will be made available sometime in the future.


I still think AniDB’s tagging system is better, because they have over 180 tags, whereas MAL has only 40 or something. AniDB also lets users place a weight for each tag. Unfortunately these become improvements only with more active users, which AniDB compared to MAL doesn’t have. What the future has in store for this experiment, it’s hard to say, but for it to have the best conditions one would need to build a better, more detailed, and more popular anime database. Contact me if you’re into that kind of thing.