Screen Time: The Watching Habits of Anime Fans
As diverse as the genres are that embody the anime landscape, so too are the viewing patterns of anime fans as they engage with the medium. Although technology and availability has shaped and ultimately eased the pathways to viewing anime works, the overall habits of those fans remain roughly the same. While some habits might have been reinforced over the last decade, and others weakened, you can find an example of each still present today.
I will preface that this article will focus solely on fans in America, as that is what I am familiar with, but would not be surprised by seeing similar patterns across the globe, as the fan community further crosses borders.
So what do I mean by watching habits or patterns? Essentially, I aim to describe what an anime fan does, or plans to do, when sitting down to watch anime. You will find that there are quite a few unique methods that ultimately determine how they digest a series. Even further, I posit that this methodology may determine how a fan views and understands the works that they have consumed once they complete them.
Dual Wielding Metrics
Viewing habits can be described via two distinct, though sometime tied together, metrics. The first metric being the total number of unique anime series that are watched in a session and the second metric being the total number of actual episodes watched, regardless of the number of unique series. This simply breaks down to a matter of length and scope. One fan might watch many episodes of a single series in one viewing session, whereas another might watch one episode each of many series during a viewing sesion.
Of course, this article does not aim to proclaim which habit is better than another, as that is a highly personal choice based on many factors, including but not to limited to time, availability of select works, access to technology, and so on. Additionally, this article does not aim to condone nor condemn any particular habit as a person’s economic, social, and emotional status can play a large factor into how they consume anime. In short, although some of these situations might not be healthy for you, the reader, that doesn’t mean that it is unhealthy for anyone else.
For the purposes of this article, I will look at each group of viewing habits along the axis of the number of episodes viewed in a session, and scale within each of these groups along the axis of the total number of unique series watched in those sessions.
Let’s get right into it.
A Fistful of Episodes
This first group of viewers ranges from 1 to 4 episodes in a session, or under two hours of viewing time for each session. The fan may have other hobbies or obligations that eat into their anime viewing time, so they take that time whenever they can, however short it may be.
Focusers are fans who are following one, maybe two shows, at a time. They consistently watch episodes on a regular basis but never watch more than a few each time. This can be due, as mentioned above, to time restraints, or could be that the fan finds it easier to follow the plots of a few shows at once, with breaks in between to process what has been seen.
Typically, persons that exhibit the Focuser watching pattern are often lifelong fans who want to still engage with the community, but struggle to wrangle enough time to stay as dedicated as they did in the past. As such, they will often choose a popular current show to keep up with, which gives them an easy way to re-engage with the rest of the fandom.
Followers are a “step up” from focusers in so much that they will focus on more than one or two shows, but still exhibit the pattern of a small number of episodes viewed in each session. This pattern works best for already engaged anime fans who are invested in currently airing shows instead of the massive backlog of anime that is now available online. They “follow” shows as they air, often awaiting the next release with excitement.
Followers, as with focusers, often narrow their choices to the most well-received works of the current season, but have the added flexibility of exploring more than one or two genres whenever possible.
Programmers follow the same small doses of anime in one session as do Focusers or Followers, but raise the total number of unique anime works watched in their sessions. I called them “programmers” as a nod to their habits being similar to that of a night television programming. They watch one or two episodes of any given series and then move on to watch another.
Programmers, and to a lesser extent Focuseres and Followers, embrace the episodic nature of the medium and allow breaks in between episodes to absorb the content, especially with dense series. Additionally, Programmers are often dedicated fans (I use the term dedicated here not as a mark of superiority but more as comment on the amount of time put into the hobby) and will reach into the past for anime works.
Obviously, as the number of different series being watched at one time grows, the total number of episodes has to grow as well. However, for the three groups mentioned above, and particularly for Programmers, these different series may be broken up across viewing sessions. A Programmer might dedicate one hour a day to anime, but will in one week watch at least one episode each of five or more different series.
For A Few Episodes More
This group of anime fans either make plans to watch a good number of anime episodes at once or end up doing so as a particular series sucks them in. The level of planning may be lower along this axis, which is mainly due to the nature of the viewing habits. The length of the viewing session can fluctuate, and may entirely be based on how gripping a given series is. Of course, the internet and ease of access to a huge anime library can facilitate these transient viewing patterns.
The term binge watch has recently entered the lexicon of not only anime fans, but of the mainstream, owing much thanks to Netflix and their strategy of keeping viewers glued to their flat screens for hours by simply shortcutting opening and closing credits and sliding right into the next episode. Episodes can blend into each other through this model and the total time spent on a series in a sitting becomes obscured.
Therefore, the Bingers group follows this same pattern, only explicitly with anime. Bingers find a new anime obsession, and focus entirely on it. They will throw on a show, and before they know it, the series is almost complete. If a show is a bit longer (multiple seasons), then they will more than likely get wrapped up in a story arc, and possibly end there. However, as mentioned before the unknown nature of when a binge will end makes it difficult to pin down any particular length of time.
Going even deeper than the typical binge watcher is what I termed “Gorgers”, named as such in that there is some idea of programming, or at least a conscious decision to move onto another series in the viewing session. Bingers often end up impressed or shocked at the end of their night at how much ground they covered, whereas gorgers know a bit more about what they’re doing, if only because they have to make the effort to switch off to another series mid-session. That switch off invariably comes with some sort of realization on time and effort, alongside the perseverance to move forward.
One thing to be said about the binging axis, is that while sometimes it gets a bad rap, there can be some benefits to viewing a series outside its typical episodic format. The main one being able to see a story arc from start to end without any breaks in between, which can help limit confusion and make the series seem more like a film or novel.
Longer than a 5K
Finally, I’ve come to the point on the axis where the fan is viewing anime series in their entirety in one sitting. As mentioned before, this group also requires planning much like those that watch multiple shows at once if only because it’s otherwise hard for an older fan to accidentally have the six or more hours to watch an entire show.
The term “marathon” has been in the anime fan lexicon far longer than binging has for mainstream culture. To marathon, or simply marathoning, refers to the act of watching an anime series in one sitting. I’m not certain how far back the term goes, but I have heard it for the twenty or so years that I’ve been in the fandom, and I’m certain it goes even further back. These kinds of sessions exist because the fan may be enthralled by the series and the concepts it presents, or because a fan wants to “cram” a popular show for some reason, like discussing it soon with fellow fans.
However, with the transient nature of media today and the sheer volume of works available to view, it seems at least that the trend of marathoning has dwindling, in favor of binging, where the time frame is unknown and the planning is less important.
There are some advantages to marathoning, though. Sometimes, when watching things piecemeal, you lose out on little details in the plot or in the design. Heck, you might even forget subplots and characters (at least I know I do). Additionally, marathoning can be downright relaxing, much like a mini vacation where you can remove yourself from the outside world – if just for a few hours.
Much like Marathoners, Ultra Marathoners watch even more anime, and more that one whole series at a time. There isn’t much to say more here, other than I salute anyone at this point of the graph for the time and dedication they take for a hobby they love.
See for Yourself
Anime viewing habits can vary greatly amongst fans. Though no matter how a fan chooses to watch anime and for how long, it’s the end result of the experience that matters most.
Where do you fall on the watching habit scale? Comment in the Facebook thread below.