This column is motivated by a discussion I had two months ago, about whether ARMS, a studio with Queen’s Blade and Hagure Yuusha no Estetica in its recent past, could really pull a good anime out of the Maoyu franchise, even with the writer/director team behind Spice and Wolf helming said show. It was a long, drawn-out debate, and it got me thinking: what names were really most important (in terms of both quality and sales) in predicting how an anime will do? For anime fans without enough time to watch every first episode in a season, it’s certainly an important question. I’ll be attempting to approach the answer to this question by remove my own biases from the equation as much as I can.
Before I do this comparison, I need to introduce some statistics, in order to allow blind comparisons and effectively illustrate my point. As far as I can tell, one of at least 4 main traits is required for a successful series: Japanese DVD/Bluray sales, Licensing in the U.S. Market (and hence percieved profitability in the states), U.S. popularity, and agreed-upon quality level (aka the “test-of-time” factor). Japanese unit sales and U.S. licensing data are readily available. Note that I will count releases in U.S. markets by companies such as Aniplex USA as a license. However, as a consequence of the non-public status of U.S. companies, U.S. sales data are not. And there is no agreed-upon single measurement of critical consensus. For the purpose of getting some handle on these latter two factors, I employ popularity and rank statistics available on myanimelist.net (to my knowledge, the largest such anime listing platform). It’s not perfect, and these numbers should be regarded with more scrutiny, but the numbers involved for the average show (~10k viewers per show, user base of greater than 100k) give a decent enough sample size.
To avoid overloading you with numbers, I’ve computed the averages of these statistics and display them below. DVD/Bluray sales are measured in units, the more the better. A U.S. license is 1, a lack of license is zero (so a group with 3 shows and 1 license, they would have a value of 0.33). MAL Popularity and Ranking are given with 1 as the highest, for a hypothetical group making only the second season of Gintama (did I mention MAL numbers were imperfect?), with a higher number being worse. For a general rule of thumb; I’m thinking >3000 (the profit line), >0.5 (every other show licensed), <1000 (ranked higher than Un-Go), <600 (more popular than Redline) are good benchmarks for success vs. failure.
Data is selected from shows airing from Winter 2009 to Fall 2012, compiled with the timely help of Sam and plenty of elbow grease. The goal is to have statistics fairly relevant to current anime.
For each “group”, you’ll see square brackets with five numbers in it, like so:
[average JP DVD sales of first volume, License rate, MAL Rank, MAL Popularity, Total # of Shows]
Group A: [6658, 0.54, 1369, 594, 13]
Group B: [13000, 0.40, 64, 377, 5]
Group C: [2695, 0.63, 2184, 729, 8]
Group D: [7371, 0.78, 845, 347 , 9]
Group E: [2411, 0.33, 1580, 792, 3]
Group F: [1918, 0.50, 1542, 990, 20]
Group G: [1918, 0.38, 735, 866, 16]
Group H: [Not Available, 1.00, 4771, 1483, 4]
Group I: [4667.6, 0.63, 1301, 645, 30]
Group J: [21660, 0.50, 490, 300, 6]
Group K: [18513, 0.80, 661, 856, 5]
Group L: [8537, 0.63, 1307, 801, 8]
Group M: [6978, 0.73, 1540, 762, 22]
Now, how exactly you value each of these groups depends on how you weight these individual statistics. I’d order these groups like this, prioritizing # of success-level rankings in each category, then Japanese DVD sales, then license number, then MAL Popularity, then MAL rank.
God Tier (all requirements):
1. Group D: [7371, 0.78, 845, 347 , 9]
Damn well rounded. I don’t care about the odds, I wouldn’t bet against anything this group did. That money’s staying in my wallet where I can use it to buy their shows.
Top Tier (3/4 requirements):
2.Group K: [18513, 0.80, 661, 856, 5]
3. Group J: [21660, 0.50, 490, 300, 6]
K and J are within 3000 DVD sales of each other, and K enjoys a healthy advantage in U.S. commercial viability, which puts it over J’s greater online following.
4. Group B: [13000, 0.40, 64, 377, 5]
5. Group A: [6658, 0.54, 1369, 594, 13]
B kicks mad at DVD sales and online popularity, which I’d take in a pinch over a slightly greater license number.
Solid Tier (2/4 requirements):
6. Group L: [8537, 0.63, 1307, 801, 8]
7. Group M: [6978, 0.73, 1540, 762, 22]
8. Group I: [4667.6, 0.63, 1301, 645, 30]
Of these 3, all meet criterion for DVD sales and licensing rates. M has a slightly higher license rate, but L has better DVD sales and rank. I rounds out the group as the one with the most popularity.
Shaky Tier (1/4 requirments):
9.Group C: [2695, 0.63, 2184, 729, 8]
10. Group G: [1918, 0.38, 735, 866, 16]
11. Group H: [Not Available, 1.00, 4771, 1483, 4]
C does a little better with DVDs and has a respectable license rate, whrereas G at least enjoys some critical appeal. H’s credentials feel fairly sketchy.
Unreliable Tier (0/4 requirements met):
12. Group F: [1918, 0.50, 1542, 990, 20]
13. Group E: [2411, 0.33, 1580, 792, 3]
F seems a little more well-rounded than E, and has made more shows. Wouldn’t take either in a pinch; I’d probably rather just get started on the new HBO show Aaron Sorkin is doing if I had a choice between that and either of these.
If you have any issues with the way I’ve compiled these statistics or the way I’ve made this ranking, now would be a great time to get down in the comments and let me know.
Now let’s get theatrical for a second. Here’s the same list, but with the real names of the groups instead of aliases.
1. Bones (studio)
2. Kishi Seiji (director)
3. Kyoto Animation (studio)
4. Takahiro Oomori (director)
5. Brains Base (studio)
6. Tsutomu Mizushima (director)
7. Summer 2012 Season Average
8. J.C. Staff (studio)
9. Brains Base without anything directed by Takahiro Omori
10. Madhouse without the Marvel anime
12. Madhouse (studio)
13. Mizushima Seiji (director)
Before I go on to say what I think this all means, some general points that jumped out at me while I was pulling data. 1. Studio Bones gives opportunites to lots of different directors. The 9 series they put out over this 4-year period had 8 different directors (Hitoshi Nanba did both Heroman and Gosick). 2. Taking Takahiro Omori away from Brains Base would result in the anime equivalent of taking Peyton Manning away from the 2011 Indianapolis Colts. Without him, they would kinda be sub-mediocre.
Anyways, what can be drawn from this arcane list? Well, first of all, I can start eating the foot I put in my my mouth when I said Studio Bones’ name didn’t matter 2 days ago. Second, if one uses the Summer 2012 season stats as a dividing line, and removing Brains Base/Takahiro Omori (since I can’t assume one is more important), you have 2 directors and 2 studios who play above the season average, and 2 studios and 1 director below. This suggests that a bigger-name director is slightly more likely to get you a better show than a big name studio, although it’s not very strong evidence. The most interesting piece is the above-noted Omori/Brains Base contrast, but Brains Base maybe a special case, since it is one of the few studios to rely on a single director to that extent (save perhaps SHAFT, which is just Akiyuki Shinbo’s anime factory, but there’s nothing to contrast there).
In summary, Bones is godly, but I don’t really find strong evidence that Studios or Directors have a universal hold on what makes an anime good. Still, one could definitely do well to memorize the names in the above list’s top 5.
Expect me to throw a few more names into the mix over the next couple of weeks (SHAFT/Shinbou, less reputable studios and directors) to see if there’s any connection here I’m overlooking. In the meanwhile, feel free to critique my methods/share your own studio/staff-related opinions in the comments!
http://www.anidb.net/ (studio and person resumes)
http://www.myanimelist.net (rough English-speaking popularity and esteem)
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com (license status)
http://www.mania.com/aodvb/showthread.php?p=2010472#post2010472 (JP DVD sales figures)
Interesting analysis, I agree studio matters. Though we also have to take into account that sale numbers don’t necessarily reflect the quality of an individual series. Shin Sekai Yori crashed and burned numbers wise, but I think many people can agree that it’s a pretty amazing show. KyoAni boasts insane commercial success, but I personally think they are very much stuck in their own creative vision rehashing the same formula of “cute girls doing cute things”. I think Bones is a more balanced studio overall, solid across the board and shows a lot of diversity in their productions, both in terms of source material and staff, which makes them mainstream enough to attract sale numbers but also sophisticated enough to satisfy critics (most of the time).
Then we have Madhouse, whose works are more often than not critically acclaimed but tanks big time commercially. I quite like Madhouse, they are one of the studios who is more likely to take risk with their productions and they suffered for it. I guess I should be glad they’re still around.
Thanks for taking the time to do this! It’s very informative.
Thanks for the feedback! It’s fun to run through numbers like this, but it does take time (analyzing individual seasons over this same time period is proving a major hassle).
Shinsekai Yori is a good case of why I can’t claim to be objectively ranking things using any fewer than 4 numbers. While using the stats for a single show is less than ideal, the profile for SSY is actually pretty good: [594, 1, 144, 344], putting it somewhere on the High Tier. I personally didn’t like the show (found the direction to be somewhat heavy-handed), but I can agree that it has merit when it comes to discussing A-1’s pedigree. And of course, being predictive is one of the major goals of statistical profiling. You’ll notice I could have made several very different lists by simply cherry-picking one of the 4 categories.
Madhouse’s story gets more fascinating the more you look into it, as they’re currently owned by NTV as part of a buyout deal that became necessary because of the extreme cost of producing Redline. So they need dvd sales less than other studios, so long as they produce ad revenue vis-a-vis daytime shows like Hunter x Hunter. They’re also not incapable of making big hits; Tatami Galaxy and High School of the Dead both sold in the 7000+ range. What kills them is a bunch of mediocre titles that were neither commercially successful nor esteemed (Souten Kourou, Needless, Ride Back, etc.) that drag their average down considerably. I love a lot of what they make (Kaiji, Kaiba, One Outs, Redline), and they can definitely do great things, but they’re not as consistent as Bones in terms of the quality level they turn out. My take-away from their statistical profile is not that they’re bad at making anime, but their A Game is not their everyday game.
I personally give KyoAni credit for trying to spend their huge budgets effectively. Their cute-girl shows are very top shelf within the genre, and some of them are quite clever. I would love to see them branch out a bit just as much, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByhP478ZPQI
SSY is an unique experience, but yeah it definitely won’t click with everyone.
As for Madhouse, yup I agree with you that they aren’t always so consistent, though even their best shows don’t sell as much as the best shows from other studios. But that’s a relative comparison.
Why do you suppose some studios produce more than others on average, like A-1 Pictures? Is it because they don’t want to hang their hope on only a few shows a year for revenue? I know the business model is probably different at each studio, but it still puzzles me how A-1’s productions tend to get animation bumps in some places while massively fail in other (Magi).
As for KyoAni, they are exceptional in what they do, but what they do is just not diverse enough. I get the feeling that they are less motivated than other studios to branch out simply because their things sell like hotcakes. I absolutely loved Hyouka though (and that PV in the link is great hah), and KyoAni churns out some breathtakingly beautiful animation that carries the feel very well. But just think how much more they can become if they ventured into new territories.
A-1’s stat profile (put it together this evening) is super-interesting: [13585, 0.68, 1142, 621, 22]. They’re essentially a rich man’s J.C. Staff, producing a lot of shows because they have commercial megahits enough to keep them in the black for a long time. The difference between them and J.C. is simply that they’ve had more hits; an unheard of 7 of their 22 works in the past 4 years sold over 20,000 volumes (i.e. enough to support 6 commercial duds apiece). 2 of those even came in the same season (Ano Hana and Blue Exorcist in Spring 2011). What jumps out at me, though, is that 6 of those 7 were based off existing successful properties (all save Ano Hana). I would guess that they’re intentionally picking out things they know will sell occasionally and using that money to support more risky ventures like SSY and Birdy Decode. This is a method practiced by every entertainment (movies, books, etc.) industry; try a lot of things and just be ready to tank out for a more generic blockbuster if you’ve been recently beset by a string of failures. Gonzo’s 2008 bankruptcy fiasco was the result of a failure to do the latter until it was almost too late. Surprisingly, much of the manga world *doesn’t* do this, which is one of the reasons why Weekly Shonen Jump dominates its competition so badly: https://animetics.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/fun-with-numbers-the-evil-genius-of-weekly-shonen-jump/
Oh, and one of the things I like about anime is that there’s plenty of variety out there for people to not like one good thing but still find plenty of enjoyment elsewhere.
Pingback: Fun With Numbers: Adaptations of Award-Winning Manga and the Myth of Madhouse | Animetics