Fun With Numbers: The Churning English-speaking Anime Fandom

I recently finished a mission that’s taken me combing through mountains of data grains and getting them all lined up in neat sacks. After writing this article, I’ve wanted to do more large-scale data/stats work with anime. But pulling up the stats I need for each anime every time I need it is a huge pain. So, over the past couple of days, I took the data I needed for all (closer to 85-90%, in actuality) of the anime that aired over the past eight years. If you want more details, or a look at the spreadsheets, they’re available in the relevant tab. Suffice to say that, for me, this database is more valuable than a giant toybox full of gold.

The first thing I want to use this data to address is the idea of “churn” in the English-speaking anime fandom; the idea that most anime fans are fairly young, old fans tend to be less involved in the community, and some old classics can get lost as a result. A more thorough expression of the idea can be found on this podcast, the major impetuous for this article.

So what’s my take on the idea that English-speaking fandom is mercilessly churning out the old and frail? Read on to find out.

If there were a constant churn pushing old anime shows out of the limelight as new ones roll in, we would hopefully see evidence of that in their online popularity. Therefore, let’s start by taking a look at what the average popularity of anime seasons looks like over the years, by comparing a season’s average myanimelist popularity with its airdate.

FWN-Churn-a

That graph shows a very clear increase in popularity from 2005-2007, and a much more stable value for years afterwards. This indicates that there was a period which younger fans don’t care to sample anime from and/or weren’t around for. However, if there were a constant churn, I’d expect to see those numbers continue to get better in the 2008-2012 region, but the figures for that region fluctuate around a fairly steady value. So I don’t think it’s that.

I think it’s more likely there was a distinct transition between fanbases, where old fans started to file out (hence the less popular older anime) and new fans started coming in, following anime that was current at the time (hence the more popular newer anime). Was there an event during that time between 2006-2009 that might have been the cause?

Lots of events occurred during that span of time. But I’d like to call your attention to two of them, 1) 2 consecutive years of negative growth for the Japanese industry (2006-2007 and 2007-2008) and 2) The HD-DVD/Blu-Ray Format War (June 2006-February 2008).

(1) is important because it forces the Japanese anime industry to circle their wagons, retooling their business strategy around what will sell, reducing the overall number of anime produced and increasing the time put into each (and hence the odds of it being a big hit). (2) is important because it offers the Japanese industry a way of making more money relatively cheaply by charging more for the same product. My hypothesis is that both of these factors lead to the production of, in general, prettier/smoother (or however one would describe the similarities between Attack on Titan and OreImo) anime , something which has remained a factor over the past five years and would explain the continued presence of newer fans/willingness to go back and try shows from that era (as opposed to shows which “look too old”). It also may have led to more anime going for cheap sex appeal, leading to a loss of some older fans (though the latter is far more speculation on my part).

So what’s my point? That there isn’t a huge churn affecting anime fandom nowadays, but there sure was one (whether a singular event or a continued process) 5 years ago. Make of that what you will.

If I ever found the time, it’d be interesting to go back and see what the popularity curve looks like before 2005. There’s a chance I might find clearer evidence of a timeframe where popularity makes a rapid drop, something that signifies a definite transition between “new” and “old” anime fans.

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