Don’t trust the average score

In 1985, Satomi Mikuriya’s sci-fi adventure manga Nora was adapted into anime by a small studio. The story starred the charming heroine Nora Scholar; a young woman who is on vacation at a holiday resort located on a space station. As she attempts to kick back and relax, various problems begin plaguing the station. Ranging from comedic incidents to the failure of critical systems. Throughout this 1-hour OVA, Nora and her sidekicks discover what’s happening to the resort and embark on an exciting adventure to prevent all-out calamity.

Nora currently stands at a 4.46/10 on MAL and a 37% average score on AniList.

Much of the anime community these days is gathered together on websites like AniList, where we assemble lists of shows we’ve watched, score & review them, and discover new series to add to our endless backlogs. These sites frequently put all the ratings given by its users together to arrive at an average score for each anime, which makes a lot of sense. It’s a nice way to sort anime based on quality; not decided by objective facts, but by democratic subjectivity. Everybody has a say and can affect the average.

The downside of an average score is that they tend to, well… average out a lot. A few series will (justifiably) rise to the top, but a large bulk of anime will invariably end up occupying a vague score range that it shares with almost anything else. Few shows every dip down into the truly low numbers because any series that attracts enough viewers will find itself defenders. Enough people will argue that The Magnificent KOTOBUKI is at least something different for once to keep its score at 64% (6.8 on MAL). Even the universally panned Junji Ito Collection barely clings to a 57% (6.2 on MAL). Those are passing grades for some of the ugliest and most embarrassing anime we’ve seen in recent years.

Average scores are based somewhat on actual quality, but above all they are determined by indifference. The fewer people who’ve seen the show, the more power each individual has in affecting the score; regardless of whether that is a conscious decision or not. And for many niche shows, the scores trend towards being tragically low. A 37% for Nora, a 31% for Wonder Momo, 46% for the classic fantasy OVA Capricorn, same for Venus Project, and, most shockingly of all, just 41% for Stan Lee’s The Reflection. That puts these shows around the same average score as notoriously bad anime that are popularly scored low by the community, like Boku no Pico (36%) or School Days (51%).

Older OVA series are heavily impacted by this, but we see similar casualties in the seasonal anime rush. With people flocking en masse to the big hits of any season, niche anime with lower budgets but creative ideas get passed up on completely—with low average scores as a result. Grimm’s Notes was one of the biggest losers of 2019 at 52%. A score that would make many an anime fan instantly write it off as garbage, even as worse series manage to stay in the black by virtue of being tied to Junji Ito.

I am not going to tell people how to score their anime because I am not the dictator of AniList. Not yet, at least. However, I will urge those who use seasonal charts to look for new anime to consider the series ranked at the bottom. There will almost always be interesting gems hiding among the series for kids and weird CGI projects. Heck, maybe those are the gems sometimes. Average scores are a useful metric in a lot of cases, but they can be deceptive and unfairly disadvantage experimental series, often condemning them to eternal obscurity. Let’s give these little guys some love and maybe you’ll even end up finding personal favorites in the process.

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