Anime, unlike a game, a sport, or mechanical tinkering, is a fairly passive hobby. You plop yourself in front of a screen, press play, and maybe livetweet about the episode as it’s going on. But most people watch shows straight through. Outside of refreshing crunchyroll streams frozen for too long to plausibly be a dramatic pause, an average anime requires very little user input to run from start to finish (even books and manga at least require readers to turn pages). That doesn’t mean anime is a shallow hobby, or a passive one, but it does mean that the big moments in anime, the ones that suck the viewers into the screen like some elastic pink thing, are pretty important, since viewers typically aren’t doing anything that would serve to distract them from how tacked-together and plodding a subpar sequence is. A good anime will have a few moments capable of forcing viewers to snap to full attention, and a great one will have several per episode.
These moments are often obvious to whoever experiences them, but because so much subjective and personal experience goes into how one person experiences a work of entertainment, it can be difficult to isolate these on a macro/crowd level. If attainable, that information would be useful in a number of discussions, notably in those trying to tie a particular sequence into discussions of how much it might have meant for the show sales-wise.* Participating in discussion of an episode is a way to suss out your thoughts on a show, but a lot of that discussion is per-mediated in the sense that you’ve had time to digest before you speak your piece on it. By contrast, commenting systems built into video streaming platforms offer a fast-reaction look at how specific moments or intervals in a show evoked strong, immediate reactions. Which, in turn, makes these moments likely candidates for ones that pushed people over the top from being interested to being locked-in.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the timed comment data for several successful shows to get an idea of which moments may have been “high-leverage” ones that brought more fans into the show’s big tent. First up, the eleven episodes of Masaki Yuasa’s Ping Pong The Animation. Full disclosure: I’m writing this having seen the show, and assuming you’ve seen it too. Since this is essentially a list of scenes of importance from a slightly atypical perspective, there’s obvious spoiler potential below.
Himado comment data (explained here) exists for all 11 episodes of the show, with totals of around 4000-10000 per episode. The disparate value per episode means it’s difficult to straight-up compare the number of comments at a given time. What I did instead was take the z-score of the number of comments for each 10-second interval of time. That is, how many standard deviations from the episode’s mean worth of comments did that interval generate? The results for each episode are archived here and plotted below:
(Note that if you are using Funimation streams to compare, you may be slightly off as they include an 8-second logo sequence not present on himado.)
Let me just make a quick comment before I get into what the most high-engagement moments were. While the patterns of interest from week to week are generally quite disparate, they do share a common element. Once the episode goes to the end credits (~1290 sec), comment totals briefly surge as people share their opinions on the episode, then plummet as the episode finishes playing, settling down at a z-score between -1 and -2 (whatever indicates 0 comments for a given episode).
Anyways, let’s take a look at what these graphs are actually saying – what were the most engaging moments of the series? There are actually two ways to attack this question. One, which individual 10-second intervals had the highest scores? Two, over what periods did the show keep a positive score the longest?
Over the 1650 10-second intervals measured, there were a total of 26 intervals with a z-score in excess of 3. Excluding the 12 of those that are end-of-episode comments, that leaves 14 total intervals which produced exceptional amounts of commentary. These moments, ordered from lowest to highest score, are:
14. Episode 5, 490-500 seconds (3.12)
-Kong gets a care package from his mom back home in China. One of several scenes in the series where’s it’s totally acceptable to cry.
13. Episode 8, 580-590 seconds (3.22)
-Peco reacts to having drawn Kong for the second round of the show’s final tournament. That is to say, he starts complaining about the draw the instant he gets out of his coaches’ earshot.
12. Episode 9, 680-690 seconds (3.72)
-A fun little bit of dialogue between Akuma and his girlfriend/future wife.
11. Episode 11, 1130-1140 seconds (3.77)
-In the epilogue, Dragon/Kazama gets his Bento stolen by a bird.
10. Episode 8, 870-880 seconds (3.91)
-Prior to Peco’s match with Kong, the show busts out its hero metaphor, along with the Hero Appears, a sweet-ass piece of BGM.
9. Episode 5, 340-350 seconds (4.12)
See #3 below.
8. Episode 1, 970-980 seconds (4.19)
-Kong, analyzing a match between Smile and Peco by ear, mentions that Smile is losing on purpose. This segways into the eyecatch, which is also a title drop for the episode.
7. Episode 2, 470-480 seconds (4.25)
-Smile’s coach delivers him a handmade Bento.
6. Episode 5, 1220-1230 seconds (4.28)
-Smile rebukes a long, angry rant of Akuma’s by bluntly telling him he has no talent for the sport.
5. Episode 7, 1160-1170 seconds (4.98)
-It’s revealed that everyone in Peco’s family has the same face.
4. Episode 4, 1250-1260 seconds (5.02)
-After the tournament, a Kaio player expresses resentment at Dragon and Yurie’s relationship using some fun slang.
3. Episode 5, 350-360 seconds (5.49)
-Post-interhigh defeat, Peco floats on the ocean like a dead fish. This interval also includes a neat cut of a girl riding the waves on an inflatable raft.
2. Episode 3, 770-780 seconds (5.74)
-After getting a pep talk from his girlfriend, an intimidated nobody decides to face up and play Kong, He then immediately gets stomped flat, scoring 2 total points.
1. Episode 6, 740-750 seconds (6.12)
-Kong does karaoke on Christmas Eve.
The majority of these big blips seem slanted toward comedic moments. I count 7 of the 14 as primarily funny bits, with the remaining 7 being split 4:3 between dramatic/emotional moments and creative animation/storyboarding. Ping Pong is not primarily a comedy, so I’d expect some of that split comes from an intrinsic bias in the way people comment, tending to pile on when there’s a fun way to respond to a joke.
Longest Periods of Positive Z-score:
A brief flash isn’t all there is to working a crowd, though. Sometimes a scene gets more effect out of a slow burn. There were 10 intervals of continuously positive z-score in the show that lasted longer than 90 seconds. For the sake of time, I’m going to cover the top 4, those lasting longer than 2 minutes (these typically ended up being combo chains of emotionally-thick scenes). Clips of the relevant scenes are linked via hulu, slightly chopped for clarity.
4. Episode 5, 1200-1340 seconds (140 seconds)
Sakuma expresses large amounts of frustration after losing to Smile in a humiliating blowout that he instigated. Peco, meanwhile, quietly gives up on the sport. This interval also fades into the end credits.
3. Episode 6, 720-870 seconds (150 seconds)
A couple of theme-building, subtext-heavy conversations here. Smile and his coach talk about Sakuma quitting, the club captain talks about the differences between people who do Table Tennis for fun versus for a career, Dragon and Yurie likewise talk about Sakuma and the importance of talent. At the end, all that talk is juxtaposed with another side of professional sports – equipment provided by team sponsors with the intent to advertise.
2. Episode 10, 790-970 seconds (180 seconds)
Peco, backed against the wall in a match against Dragon, starts a comeback fueled by a renewed sense of fun and the series’ best BGM.
1. Episode 11, 910-1120 seconds (210 seconds)
The show’s older trio of coaches talk about their past, being genuine with each other for the first time in a while. Peco and Smile play their final match, illustrated through some very carefully-chosen images of children playing around on a ping pong table. The series then cuts forward to the epilogue, revealing the life choices the cast made after the events of the show.
As someone who’s already spent a significant amount of time working this data method, and a huge Kong Wenge fanboy, I’m by no means unbiased when I say that these scenes seem like a somewhat plausible group of all-star moments from the series, a group more or less evenly split between happy energetic and forlornly depressed.
I’ll be doing some more breakdowns of this type on semi-recent shows in the next couple of weeks, probably working in at least one primary comedy, one primary action, and one primary slice-of-life to get an idea of how the genres compare, and if some of the things this analysis hints at (comedy driving proportionally more commentary blips with more total jokes being told, chains of scenes resulting in long positive stretches towards the end of a series when pacing is at its most rapid peak, etc.) hold true across a number of variable changes.**
*I’ll be the first to admit that trying to break down a system as complex as a completed TV anime into the sum of its parts is a daunting exercise – lots of factors come in and the smallest adjustments can make huge differences in the quality of a scene. But there’s no harm in trying so long as we keep that caveat in mind.
**These will likely be shows I’ve seen, since parsing through data this dense is a chore without any background knowledge.