“Anime is dying!
Everything is killing anime!”
– the anime sphere
No, that’s not really what the anime sphere is saying. That’s what a small handful of ragers are saying, and half of them are just trolling. But every time I read it, it gets me thinking: what was the best year for anime?
To me, it’s obvious that the not-so-new millennium has been the best time for anime—and it gets better every year. I base that on the fact that there’s always a greater quantity of anime coming out, which means more chances for that anime to be good. I think that the percentage of anime that’s been good at any given time is about the same, so more shows is more better. Additionally, I think anime has expanded so much in time, it can do way more now than it could before—and frankly, every year anime gets closer to touching something I refer to as my “core interest.” (Kara no Kyoukai rubs its crotch against it.)
But what, I wonder, would public opinion consider the best year of anime? The year that had the most to offer to the broadest range of fans? There’s no way of definitely knowing because I lack the resources to poll every anime fan, but how about we narrow it down to… the userbases of My Anime List and Anime News Network? MAL to me represents the (non-Japanese) fandom as a whole, with a slight leaning towards the internet-watching fansub culture, whereas ANN represents the (non-Japanese) fandom with a slight leaning towards the TV-watching dub culture. Combining their statistics isn’t just good for that reason, though: ANN helps fill in the memory gaps of MAL, which hasn’t been around as long.
Now, let’s see a chart which lists every single anime that has a score of 8.0 or higher on MAL and ANN, grouped by year. (Click to enlarge.)
Wow, that’s a lot of shows! 2010 has the most to its name, but those percentages next to it aren’t a good thing. There are several problems with using scores to decide what’s good.
1. The Law of Sequel Scoring. Unless it’s not very good, a sequel will usually receive a higher score than the show which came before it. That’s because fewer and fewer people will come back for each installation, and the ones who do will be those who liked the previous installations; so the people rating the show will increasingly be fans of it. Sequels can quickly unbalance a list like this, especially sequels in large franchises with diehard fanbases. Take Major, which has six seasons and two OVAs all on this list. Major is a pretty niche series all the way through, with the OVAs even falling into the Obscurity Ghetto I’ll talk about momentarily. Any year with a season of Major is getting boosted by a show, even though it’s a show very few people will have watched—and that’s not very effective. Now look at the 2010 shows: 51.51% of them are direct sequels to other shows. Ouch!
2. The Obscurity Ghetto. There are some shows that barely anyone has seen, but that all those who saw it liked it. That’s because anyone who actually found it was probably going to like it. Obscure shows are usually exceedingly old or niche, and the only people who’re even going to bother are the ones who’d probably like it anyway. Since obscurity isn’t easy to quantify, I specifically counted anything that appears on less than 3,000 MAL lists to be obscure. Fairly, some of the things that strattled above that line were pretty obscure, but I didn’t want to start making exceptions. A progression of sequels is a walk into the obscurity ghetto.
3. Recency Bias. Rarely do people have consistent MAL scoring tendencies, and rarely do their opinions remain static. Shows that have been recently popular will rocket up the Top Anime list as people give it their 10/10 Best Show Evar and it sweeps through the sphere. Only after the hype wave and a hundred million unimpressed hypeboarders crash against the shore does the score start to settle into its permanent position.
The recency bias can’t be helped, but we can clearly see where obscurity and sequels play into the number of shows rated >8.0 per year.
According to the chart, the number of sequels to achieve favorable scores in the past four years is staggering. Most likely, that’s because 2006–07 is the real takeoff point both for speedsub culture and for MAL, and the following years had a lot of sequels to shows from those years. The speedsub boom coupled with the ever-increasing number of shows coming out accounts for the spike in number of shows per year as well, while the availability of those shows accounts for so few of them being totally obscure.
With 63 shows and only 17.56% of them being direct sequels, 2007 looks like a clear winner for the best year on this chart, if it’s to be trusted at all.
Another thing: take note of the “% Carried Over” column. For the most part, it remains quite consistent, averaging in the range of 25–30% a year. This means a good number of the well-liked shows are long-runners that crossed several years. We’ll see this again.
Now, when I look at that chart by rating, I see a whole lot of shows that have no business being on a chart to determine the best year of anime, so here’s a different chart. This one was made by combining the lists of the 250 most popular anime on MAL and ANN (the former determined by number of lists they appear on, the latter by the number of votes the show has). (Click to enlarge.)
The problem with this chart should be immediately evident: it begins at 1984 and does not contain either of ghostlightning’s two favorite shows—nor, for that matter, any Macross anime before 2008, nor any universal century Gundam anime whatsoever. Shock!
But besides that, this list is way better. Nothing on the list strikes me as unbelonging. Some of you are probably raising an eyebrow now and saying, “Naruto? Naruto Movies??” Hey, like I said, I’m looking for the average anime fan here. (Plenty of your favorite shows are probably on there, anyway.) I know that I could show this list to most average fans, and it would contain every anime they’ve ever heard of, much less all of their favorites. The list can’t please everyone, or else it wouldn’t be a judge of public opinion to begin with.
The increase of shows over the years on this list is a lot more smooth and gradual, with the bulk of shows spread more evenly across the last decade. You can thank the lack of recency bias and the long memory of ANN for that. 2011 looks much smaller, both because the year isn’t over yet, and because far fewer people have gotten around to watching the new shows. There are way fewer sequels all around, proving the earlier “walking into sequel ghetto” theory. You’ll notice that the percentage of carried over shows is consistently around 30%, just like it was on the first chart.
According to this chart, not only does 2007 have the highest number of shows, but still has the lowest percentage of sequels, so again it claims the prize as the best year. I’m okay with this.
You probably shouldn’t be, and that’s fine. Because seriously, fuck this list. You notice how Revolutionary Girl Utena isn’t on it? I tried so hard to get that show on both lists. I hadn’t intended to use nearly such a large pool of shows, but I wanted to get Utena in there or else it just felt wrong. Utena has just above an 8.0 on MAL, and not even that on ANN, so I played limbo to get it on the first list. I thought I’d be able to do the same with 250 shows by popularity, but no dice. On ANN, it clocks in at just under 300, and on MAL, it’s all the way in the 500s. I have no idea why or how it’s possible that Utena is both overlooked and underrated, but I assume it has something to do with the godawful dub.
Still, I’m totally okay with 2007 for the best year of anime. Going by my latest ridiculous favorites list, two of my top three shows aired that year (Baccano and Lucky Star), and a shitload of other shows I like, so it’s pretty nigh untouchable. (2006, 2010, and 1998 are also good years for me.) By the way, did looking at 1988 on the first chart make anyone else cream their panties? Holy fucking fuck.
Anyway, if you care to research what years all of your favorite shows aired in, or just have disgustingly accurate knowledge of these things like I do, then please let me know what your best anime year was in the comments. And if it’s in the past five years, then you are expressly forbidden to bemoan the declining quality of anime until it is no longer in the past five years.
(I wish I could end this post with “going to bed now” but I have to do a live show in like… 6 hours… which will be 4 hours ago when you read this…)