Our animation archive Sakugabooru celebrates its fifth anniversary today, having grown more popular than we ever could have hoped for. After all this time we’ve amassed plenty of information regarding people’s favorite pieces of animation: the most beloved artists, the nature of those sequences, what kind of format and even length are favored – enjoy this very illustrative look at how fans all around the world consume animation!
Sakugabooru officially launched on August 16, 2013, though you can trace it back to a bunch of innocent jokes that got out of our hands a month beforehand. And here we are now, ~54k uploads later and with ~40k active posts. Its gradual growth keeps on surprising us: we’re well above 500k unique users per year, oscillating around 1.5-2 million sessions, and that further increases anytime there’s a particularly famous title that gets new fans interested in the craft or simply hungry for more outstanding animation. And that seems to work out, since the average Sakugabooru browsing session is around 6 minutes and a half – meaning that people generally come and check multiple clips rather than just watching one sequence, considering the length of our uploads. For a niche site we’re in a very healthy state, even if that growth has also made all sorts of maintenance tasks more demanding.
It’s also become a common occurrence that animators themselves mention they loaded Sakugabooru either for entertainment or to check references for their work, and then get sidetracked rewatching their favorite scenes. I’d like to say that we are also a victim of our own trappings, but most importantly, I’d like to highlight that a lot of artists from all over the world do use the site. Sakugabooru has dozens of animators as regular users and maintaining the authorship tags, which we’re always delighted about. We’ve even started noticing young creators using their Sakugabooru page to present their work to producers, which has given us the idea of modifying them in the future to make them into proper portfolios. The internet blurring the wall between fans and professionals can have some very unfortunate consequences, but anime in particular has benefited very notoriously from that, and we’d like to keep on being a small positive factor. For a long time, our goal’s been to maintain a site useful for professionals and fans alike, and seeing users who started as the latter end up within the industry working alongside the artists whose work they browsed is a source of pride.
But enough tooting our own horn, we’re not that good. The point we wanted to make, celebration aside, is that we’ve been around for a while and have gathered enough reference points that we can infer interesting conclusions regarding the way fans consume Japanese animation; the obvious disclaimers are that we’ll be talking about popularity rather than technical excellence per se, and that it favors Japanese works immensely, despite animation from all around the world being allowed simply because that’s how the site started – though of course many of the highest regarded cuts in JP titles were animated by artists overseas.
Volume isn’t a factor we’re particularly concerned with either, since it’s very often determined by format rather than content or even popularity. Naruto, Precure, One Piece, and Gundam are by far the franchises with the most posts featured on Sakugabooru, trailed by the likes of Pokemon and Fate; no doubt that they’re for the most part beloved, iconic IPs, but they wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t been delivering new material for many years. Space Dandy stands out as the first seasonal show to appear in the rankings with over 300 uploads, which is understandable considering the project was an animation milestone for the Japanese industry, though I’d like to note the number is somewhat inflated because they were very generous when it came to sharing production materials. We’re in a similar situation regarding the animators with the most uploads: we find the everpresent Hironori Tanaka with the most clips followed up by arguably anime’s greatest solo episode animator Masaaki Iwane, but as a whole the ranking is very influenced by factors as arbitrary as the different ways our users cut the sequences.
Let’s move onto the best rated pieces of animation then, since that’s where the most illustrative information is. And there’s an obvious fact that we’ve got to address first. The top 5 rated clips in Sakugabooru come from the hands of Yutaka Nakamura. No other animator has even come close to reaching 1k votes, and yet he’s managed that multiple times. He animated 12 sequences out of the 25 best-rated ones, 22 if you extend it to the top 100. Sure there’s the likes of modern Kanada School icon Yoshimichi Kameda, versatile living legend Norio Matsumoto, new leading voice Hakuyu Go, Toei-affiliated ace Naotoshi Shida, and a few more with generous representation among the most beloved clips, but you’d need many of them put together to even get close to Nakamura’s level. This simply quantifies a phenomenon that’s easy to appreciate: Nakamura is currently the most popular Japanese animator, as well as the most influential one among younger animators no matter their origin, by such a massive distance that no one else can even compare. There’s a reason that his own take on quirks that existed long before his arrival are now widespread to the point that animators themselves poke fun at overdone Nakamura-flavored impact frames – in good faith of course!
Looking at exactly which Nakamura pieces get the most attention is also quite telling of modern preferences. The most voted sequences are all fighting scenes revolving around 2D effects animation, while the fights that are more traditional hand to hand combat lag behind a fair bit. Recency bias likely affects this, since the former is an approach that Nakamura has almost fully embraced in recent years, but that’s far from everything. To test our theory, we classified the current top 100 uploads as such: action sequences with effects as the major draw, action sequences that instead focus on physicality and choreography, pure effects showcases, character acting focused clips, and mixed bags. Some sequences could go either way (look no further than this Ryo Imamura and Genichirou Abe relay where impact and effects share the spotlight evenly), but the results are conclusive enough to account for that. Over half of the highest rated pieces of animation feature hand-drawn effects as the protagonist, followed by physical action and with anything else barely receiving any love. 2DFX has been one of the defining traits of the Japanese industry for a long time and still catches the eye of fans and the fancy of artists.
What perhaps extends from a curiosity into worrying territory is the general disinterest regarding acting animation. Anime’s limitations make smooth realism hard to achieve, but neither the exceptional instances of that nor the playful exploitations of anime’s idiosyncrasies manage to make much of a splash. Some beloved fighting scenes do make an effort to prioritize character expression as much as possible, but even artists like Norio Matsumoto who masterfully blur the lines between the fields are most appreciated for their punching. To find the first acting showcase not tied to any fight you have to scroll down to #56 in the top100, with this iconic scene from Yoshiji Kigami’s episode of Sound! Euphonium. In the end, there are only 6 pure acting clips within the top 100, all among the lower rankings.
This could be excused by noting that Sakugabooru’s platform is indeed not ideal for appreciating character expression. With sound and context removed, there’s only a visual excerpt to go off, and flashy action has an easier time selling itself with that alone. From our long experience maintaining the site though, we’ve got to say that most users actually come to check out pieces of animation after watching them within context, with most browsing of new material happening afterward. The issue is then more about appreciation in the first place. We know for a fact that viewers treasure craft they perceive as a technical achievement – hand-drawn background animation is always a very positive factor in the rankings, while any noticeable CGi has a negative impact, whether that’s fair or not. Getting across the effort that goes into more laid back acting sequences, detailing the nuance present in both realistic expression and quirky exaggeration, is one of our biggest goals.
Something I feel is important to point out, however, is that flashy action is in no way lesser. Animation enables these bombastic setpieces in the first place, so of course there’s nothing wrong with fans and creators alike being attracted to them. Takeshi Honda, popularly known as the Master of Japanese animation, recently expressed his worries that many young animators nowadays try to mirror Yutaka Nakamura’s bombastic action animation without first grasping the fundamentals. Taking it out of context that might sound damning, but these very same legends have sung Nakamura’s praises endlessly and also the work he’s spawned, celebrating this new energetic youth inspired by him. And at any rate, it’s worth reminding that this is no battle: appreciation of action doesn’t come at the cost of anything. We don’t need anyone to stop enjoying a good cartoon punch, but we’d be better off expanding horizons.
This has been going for long enough, but I’d like to make a final note regarding animation appreciation. As it turns out, fans are more likely to rate sequences they can attach a name or face to. Nametags make it easier to come across their work and beloved scenes are also just a bit more likely to get authorship confirmation, but it’s not by chance that we find the first clip with no animator credit whatsoever down at #49 – and even then I can tell you Shinpei Sawa contributed to it. This is something we’ve even observed regarding uploads that wrongly credit one of those very popular animators; the immediate reaction to those cases is much stronger than it is when similar sequences are uploaded with an artist unknown tag, proving that there’s some names with true magnetism. I don’t find it particularly worrying, but it’s worth keeping in mind that cult of personality is something that can cloud our vision. Let’s keep on appreciating animation for what it is.
Here’s for 5 more years of Sakugabooru at the very least! Thank you for all your support this far!