Some time ago in late 2020, I saw a colleague sharing a weekly ranking of favorite couple ships released by Anime Trending. Since the ranking had some yuri ships but no yaoi or BL ships, he was wondering if the former is better accepted than the latter. But I responded that may not necessarily be the case. They may not even be as opposed as they might seem, since, for example, at least in Japan itself there are indications that there could be significant overlap between yuri and BL fans and even the creators. There may be other reasons why no pairings of male characters made it to that ranking; like perhaps participation from their fans in such popularity polls isn’t high because of various reasons?

That was just one of the cases that, I think, shows how important it is to have appropriate contexts to read data from popularity polls. It can be a good idea to ask who are participating in the votes? Who votes for what?

For the popularity polls that KAORI held, we have always tried to include data about at least the gender and age proportions of the participants (and since I write this for the English site, I want to make clear that we only surveyed our readers in Indonesia). In the poll we had for 2020 anime, we even tried to break down the top lists based on gender and age. The result is, because our poll’s female participants are disproportionately smaller, admittedly the overall list is biased to the tastes of male fans. But by detailing the top choices of the participants of different genders, we could at least get some hints on where the interests of male and female participants differ. It is not perfect, but these details hopefully can lead to a more critical assessment of the result rather than just presenting the heavily biased overall top list.

But there is also another side to polls that also needs critical attention, that is the available nominees. Who decide on what selections can be voted by the participants? How do those selections get determined? These are some more questions that can be asked.

If we go back to the issue of the shipping poll from earlier, we can also ask whether there were pairing of male characters available to be voted during that period to begin with, and if there were any, whether they reflected the pairings that the shippers actually like. How can we measure how much popular shipping male characters compared to other ships if there aren’t that many of those ships available for their fans to vote to begin with?

You can also take the nomination aspect into account when looking at the result of KAORI’s own poll. Perhaps you notice that Jujutsu Kaisen doesn’t appear in KAORI’s poll, despite the title getting nods in awards or rankings for 2020 anime held by various sites. That is because the criteria for KAORI’s poll includes the anime series must have aired the last episode of at least a given season within the year. Jujutsu Kaisen, then, is not considered eligible according this criterion because it airs for two cours straight from October to March of the following year. You may disagree with this criterion, of course. Personally, I don’t think the criterion works well with shows like Pretty Cure either, which runs for a whole year and starts in February. That way, Healin’ Good Precure wasn’t eligible for the 2020 poll just because the last episode aired in February 2021, even though 84% of the show aired in 2020.

These are just a couple of critical points that could be taken into consideration when reading popularity poll data. Perhaps, as another opinion has argued, popularity polls are just too limited in their usefulness as a source of information about other people’s preferences and interests, let alone to be taken seriously as a measure of quality. But seeing how people’s interest in popularity polls seems like it’s going to stay for the foreseeable future, at least we can try to be aware of those limitations and think critically about the contexts of the data presented by the polls. That way, hopefully we can at least avoid falling into the trap of making misguided conclusions from the polls’ data as with the shipping topic explained in the beginning.

Read more: Anyone Can Claim the Top Anime

By Halimun Muhammad | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara

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