It’s one of the oldest conundrums in the anime fandom that the shows that get the most attention are often not the best-made shows, the ones that blow people’s minds when they see them. In a vaccum, that’s pretty confusing; shouldn’t we be giving the most attention to the shows we’ll enjoy the most? Why do some shows get high ratings and languish in the proverbial basement popularity-wise while others get abyssmal scores but receive tons of attention? I found a quick and dirty way to dig into this problem using my set of seasonal anime data and got a set of results that was equal parts depressingly predictable and pleasantly surprising.
At the core of everything to follow in this column is one statistic. It’s called the Critical/Casual Slant and defined as C, where C=myanimelist score ranking-myanimelist popularity ranking, for any given show. In theory, a high positive value of C indicates a casual anime that’s way more popular than it “should” be, a high negative value of C indicates a critical anime that’s way less popular than it “should” be, and a low value of C indicates a show that’s about as popular as it “should” be. Emphasis on the airquotes, of course. I keep my data limited to shows that aired over the past 8 years, mainly because that’s the size of the data I had readily available.
You can check the full data out here, but if you just want a quick rundown of the extreme ends of the spectrum, here’s your top ten on each end:
10. Blood-C 
9. Starry Sky 
8. Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Ja Nain Dakara Ne 
7. Ookamikakushi 
6. Akikan 
5. Togainu no Chi 
4. Shining Hearts 
3. Arcana Famiglia 
2. Queen’s Blade s1 
1. Rainbow Gate 
10. Victorian Romance Emma s2 [-1641]
9. Hyouge Mono [-1725]
8. Gegege no Kitarou (2007) [-1895]
7. Initial D Fifth Stage [-1914]
6. Shin Mazinger Z [-1929]
5. Giant Robo (2007) [-1978]
4. Yes Precure 5 s2 [-2124]
3. Moonlight Mile s2 [-2280]
2. Astro Fighter Sunred s2 [-2470]
1. Kaze no Shojo Emily [-2704]
There aren’t too many real surprises on either list. The critical list is full of sequels, which makes sense since sequels get fewer viewers and higher ratings on average, so a show that was already high-quality and unpopular will almost always see a higher critical score for season 2. And I don’t think anyone who reads this blog is going to argue that Queen’s Blade or Togainu no Chi are particularly underrated shows.
So, and this is where it gets interesting, which end of the spectrum do you think did better in the marketplace? Trick question: both extremes do fairly poorly, while the middle cleans up:
With one notable exception*, all of the biggest-selling titles with 20,000+ volume sales are ones with really low differences between their popularity and ranking. These aren’t just the ones ranking in the top 100 with naturally lower differences. 658th-ranked Idolmaster (C=17, 27,552 sales) and 187th-ranked Gundam 00 (C=-9, 39,352 sales) boost the middle as much as 38th-ranked Madoka Magica (C=-12, 71,057 sales) and 12th-ranked Code Geass (C=9, 45,366 sales) do.
I take one notable piece of information from this data, beyond the fun working with anime-related numbers usually gives me. Contrary to the popular myth, the shows stuffing shallow fanservice into every scene to make up for poor quality do not automatically sell. Though there are examples of that happening, the shows that really sell are well-made shows that bring the level of quality necessary to back up their level of popularity. It’s an encouraging thought.
*Infinite Stratos posted a C=1780 value and sold 33,812 units per volume.