A Note on Usable versus Unusable Crowdsourced Tags

I’m going to be posting anywhere from 1 to 3 articles using animenewsnetwork’s tag system over the next week or two, so I think now would be as good a point as any to make an important point about when it is and isn’t ok to use.

There’s lots of interesting work to be done on the performance of anime and manga of different genres. Classifying the genre of a work of entertainment is tough. Especially when the definition is as amorphous as it is for something like moe. However, in practice, it actually isn’t a huge deal if a site is consistently applying the same incorrect definition; even blatantly incorrect definitions (I’m looking at you, shonen=the genre containing battle action) can yield meaningful results about the type of series fitting the definition being used if they’re consistent. Dealing with them just requires a willingness to dive in and determine exactly what your numbers say.

A much more common and hazardous pitfall tags slip into is one I call selective incompleteness. Quite often, via either lack of attention to the tag or too much attention paid to too few cases, whether or not a series falls under it will depend on whether it’s popular or not. This is a problem for lots of reasons when trying to break down the sales of a genre; every Genre A series that aired over a 10-year period might come up with worse average sales than the two most popular Genre B series of that period, even if the Genre A was generally much more profitable.*

The above is an extreme example, but I hope you see my point. If we’re going to talk about the average performance of a genre, we want their averages (or totals), not just a selection of more-popular-than-average shows that happen to be from those genres. Since popularity can correlate with sales, the risk of higher-selling shows getting selectively tagged is real, and worse so the smaller the tag is.**

ANN’s moe tag, while not quite that extreme a case, is a victim of selective incompleteness to a dangerous degree. One of the easiest ways to test the veracity of a tag is to check whether or not it’s applied consistently in-between seasons of a show. If a series gets a second season largely in line with the first, they should be tagged equivalently. If there is selective tagging going on, then sequels are probably not the only victims, but they are the most visible and arguably objective sign that it’s happening. But, Hidamari Sketch and Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu both fall victim to selective tagging under this tag. Specifically, only the first season of Hidamari Sketch is classified as moe, while only the second season of Nogizaka Haruka is. Neither of these series had sequels that radically changed gears.

I could point out other things that are suspect about the tag (like how Kyoto Animation produced something like 30% of all moe between 2005-2008), but the sequel thing is a red flag. In general, I’ll give tags some leeway, given the fact that some classifications are difficult to make. But any label that splits the difference between seasons of the same show (excluding reboots like Im@s or spinoffs like The Unlimited) is obviously too inconsistent to use. As a rule of thumb, any tag which I can point to as containing several cases of franchises being tagged inconsistently is one that I will not be using for any meaningful analysis.

*Since the profits of the anime hinge on the top 10% of series, the precise designation of a blockbuster like Bakemonogatari do have a lot of analysis-swinging potential. You can’t just ignore the exceptional cases (producing those franchise-series outliers is the business of most publishing industries), but their swing potential is the biggest reason why accurate classification is important. The fact that some of these series have disputed status that varies between databases is the lynchpin of an upcoming addendum to one of my older pieces of work.

**”Smaller” tags also carry a secondary issue, the potential of carrying a definition so specific that it’s hard to draw general conclusions due to small sample sizes. Any list less than 20 shows in length is tough to be general about.

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Fun With Numbers: Licenses Matter (If You Know Where to Look)

The Summer 2013 has presented rich discussion fodder, giving rise to a number of interesting talking points. My favorite one is still the one on the merits of the core comedy in high-school life series that Free has sparked. This article is about one of those questions, one which is more complicated than some might think; Why did The World God Only Knows get a sequel? Based sheerly on anime sales, it’s a very risky proposition; season 1 literally just hit the profit line with an average 3000 sales per volume, and season 2 was well below that, averaging only 2117 per volume. If it made any contribution to manga sales, it was one of questionable value. Aside from one special-edition release that came with a bundled OAD, the manga sales don’t show a big jump after the anime airs. It’s a late-night anime, too (aired at 3:20 in the morning), so it’s not getting any help from TV ratings/ad revenue. So why are we looking at the third season of an anime whose second was already on shaky ground?

The answer is that that ground is not, in fact, quite so shaky. Once one considers the additional impact of licensing dollars, some sequels that look like iffy business make a lot more sense.

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A Music Fan’s Perspecitive on Anime Soundtracks

[Two claifications that I couldn’t quite fit elsewhere in this article and though of afterward: when I say soundtrack, I’m not including openings and endings for the purposes of this discussion. They’re different. Also, as a music fan I know that music is subjective.]

A bit of background first. I’ve been really into music since age 5, when my dad played Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits for me, and music has pretty my been my favorite thing since then, my taste and knowledge expanding greatly every year since I was 13. Anime on the other hand, I hated until I was 14 and my best friend finally convinced me to watch Full Metal Alchemist with him. It still wouldn’t be a real hobby of mine until I was 16 or 17 and watched Samurai Champloo. Even then, it’s only a major use of my time only since entering college. Just some context for my music knowledge compared to my anime knowledge.

Anyway, an opinion I hold that seems to be controversial among other anime fans I talk to is that anime music sucks for the most part. Soundtracks default to a 5/10, and this is because I’m generous, and only take off points if it’s actively bad or doesn’t fit. But before I get too edgy and pretentious, let me explain what I mean.

To me, judging a good soundtrack is not that different from judging good music. All the same elements are there, just certain ones are more in the foreground for a soundtrack. One of the signs of good music is it’s ability to set a scene or mood. I tend to really get into it, so it isn’t hard for me to imagine things when I hear quality music. This is a sign of good music in general, but in soundtracks, it’s critical. Mood is their first job. Though, a good soundtrack should be able not only to fit the mood, it should enhance the mood of the scene, and be able to set the mood on it’s own if need be. Even bad direction can be saved to a degree with a good soundtrack. However, to be truly good soundtracks must also actually sound good to just listen to, the primary goal of regular music. This is especially true, since a song will often be played multiple times throughout a series.

To me, being good implies going above and beyond. “Not failing” isn’t good, it’s good enough. There’s a huge difference. And this may just be because music is so important to me, but a scene loses or gains a lot depending on the music with it. Haibane Renmei wouldn’t have been nearly as emotional if the music weren’t so beautiful and perfectly fitting. It really helped in my mind to establish setting, which the best soundtracks are able to do.

For some examples of mood, let me refer you to some of my favorites, both in regular music, and soundtracks. Spiderland by Slint is widely considered a classic of both post-rock and (real, not shitty modern metal) post-hardcore. It’s an incredibly powerful album with a distinct feel to it as a whole. Just listen to the opening track “Breadcrumb Trail”. I don’t know how to describe the mood, but it is powerful. Approximately 1:24 into the song is one of my favorite moments in all of music. The album also contains “Don, Aman”, one of the most strangely unsettling pieces I’ve ever heard, with lyrics I can relate to far more than I would like to. It’s only guitar chords and vocals, but no song I’ve ever heard conveys that sense of alienation, fear, and paranoia nearly that well. Also, “Good Morning, Captain” is one of the few songs to make me cry the first time I really heard the lyrics.

On the almost opposite end of the mood spectrum, is a band I’ve listened to a lot recently, Zebrahead. Probably one of the douchiest bands ever bands to exist, they’re a pop-punk band with a rapper and a goal to have zero “depth” or “meaning”. They’re fairly inconsistent after their first couple albums, but Waste of Mind and Playmate of the Year are awesome. There’s no deep emotional description I can give, but check out the songs “Someday”, “Playmate of the Year”, “I’m Money”, and “Into You”. Perfect for summer and hanging out and partying with good friends.

Anyway, back to anime soundtracks, very few of them seem to have any emotional impact, or carry a mood well at all. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an exception, using really great classical music, and not just for the sake of using it; only classical fits the scale and tone of the series. It always comes in at the right times, and always has a mood fitting what’s happening on screen. Whether you’re watching it or hearing the music, you can tell what’s happening. You can tell that a scene is dramatic and tense, or sad, or more rarely, happy. Coming together, it’s clear why Legend of the Galactic Heroes is considered a masterpiece.

Another example of perfect soundtrack is Samurai Champloo. The instrumental hip-hop perfectly complements the whole theme of the series, itself being a combination of hip-hop style and samurai action. One of the things I find incredible about it is that despite being almost entirely one genre, it covers a wide range of moods, and works well for action, comedy, and drama as well, but still maintains a really chill coolness throughout.. The soundtrack was done largely by Nujabes, well respected as one of the foremost instrumental hip-hop artists ever for the great beat with what I consider the best melodies in the genre. Sadly, he died in 2010, but his legacy certainly survives him. Check his stuff out.

Most soundtracks at least do their most basic job of keeping tone and mood to some degree, but I feel that if I’m going to call it good, it has to stand out to me as I watch the show because of at least a few tracks I enjoy as music. This, I think, is the only area where I would say OreImo is better than Kaiji. Furthermore, as much as I really love the stuff from Shaft that Shinbo directed, the soundtracks have never impressed me. I’ve watched Madoka 3 times, and I can’t remember a single song from it, but music from Green Green, an awful show I barely made it through once, still goes through my head. I only remember one track from the Bakemonogatari soundtrack, and that’s because it sounds like a ripoff of “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Hidamari Sketch music I think I only like because I associate it with Hidamari Sketch. Keep in mind that most Shinbo directed stuff I’ve seen I gave an 8 or 9 out of 10.

Basically, most anime music sounds really generic to me, fits the mood, but does nothing to enhance it, and just doesn’t sound good to listen to by itself. It wouldn’t set a mood on it’s own, or be good musically on it’s own. So much of it is just lacking the passion, emotion, and energy I’ve come to expect from music. I’d like to see more anime music succeed not only as a soundtrack, but also as music, but so many seem to forget that part and write it just as a soundtrack, but ignore the fact that as music, first and foremost it should be music.

Good anime soundtracks:
Samurai Champloo (10/10)
Legend of the Galactic Heroes (10/10)
Haibane Renmei (10/10)
Baccano! (JAZZ!)
OreImo (A lot of it is ska, various style too)
Air Gear (Similar to Jet Set Radio, one of the same people worked on both)
Lupin III (More jazz, what else fits Lupin?)
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (I don’t really know what to call this)
FLCL (A bit overrated, but still good)

My criteria for a great soundtrack:
-Sounds like it could be actual music
-Consistently keeps the tone of individual scenes
-Specifically notice the music making a scene more emotional in some way
-At least 2 tracks stand out as good when I watch it
-Plays a role in building the setting, and could do so on its own to some degree

Introducing Unnecessary Terminology: The Takeaway and The Moment

Different anime and manga, and really all works of entertainment, have different ways of captivating their audiences. Some of them create mental mementos so strong that they last forever whether you want them to or not, and others leave light footprints that disappear with the first snowfall, but are no less beautiful.

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Fun With Numbers: 10 vs. 110

One of the many controversial features of sites like myanimelist and aniDB that allow users to list their anime is their inclusion of toplists. What’s the proper way to weight scores? Should sequels (which have an intrinsic advantage in 10-point averages) be counted normally? Is there a point to having one at all when it invites as much vitriol as it sometimes does?

Though actual discussions over topics like these tend to descend into unglorified hoopla fairly quickly, these toplists and rankings can be very interesting subjects for study. Especially if you dig a layer below the top and start to look at what they really measure.

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