What Sword Art Online Says About Fandom in America

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The popularity of Sword Art Online fills me with curiosity about its fandom. With Daisuki moving a good portion of their streaming catalog to YouTube, the view count of any episode of Sword Art Online dwarfs any other series that they offer on their channel. As the newest show on Adult Swim’s Toonami block and with a presumably larger audience, what does it say about the popularity of the series and of anime in the United States itself?

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Google Trends for Sword Art Online within the United States from August 2012 to August 2013

In the above graph, a slow buildup is observed as the series began to build an audience with those who watched it soon after it aired in Japan. That figure fell off after the series wrapped in December. When the series began airing on Toonami, popularity exceeded those who watched soon when it was exclusively online. The only thing that can be extrapolated from that is that Sword Art Online has much more interest in America airing on Toonami than it did when it was limited to an internet only audience. That would not nearly be interesting enough other than to say something airing on TV anywhere is more popular than simply on the internet.

A chart of searches for Sword Art Online by state from August 2012 to August 2013

A chart of searches for Sword Art Online by state from August 2012 to August 2013

This map is more interesting in my view. At first glance, it seems to indicate a large west coast bias to the popularity of Sword Art Online. However, I think there’s a much easier way to explain this. Toonami airs Sword Art Online at 2am Eastern Time which means that it airs at 11pm Pacific Time, and more importantly 9pm in Hawaii. I’m inclinded to believe this indicates that those interested in the show are well spread out across the country, but the ideal time for airing a series to be more popular is before midnight. Then again, I think the another question that can be asked is how well does Sword Art Online compare to another foreign based product with a niche audience in the United States?

Google Trends search for Sword Art Online (in blue) compared to Premier League (in red) from August 2012 to August 2013 in the United States.

Google Trends search for Sword Art Online (in blue) compared to Premier League (in red) from August 2012 to August 2013 in the United States

This is a chart that is quite frightening if you happen to have paid $250 million for 3 years of the line in red, which is exactly what NBC Sports did in acquiring television rights for the Barclays Premier League. Since it hasn’t yet started airing (the season starts a week from Saturday), this isn’t an entirely fair comparison, but to be more than doubled up in interest by a Japanese animation that airs late at night on the weekends is pretty worrying. For another comparison, I was at Anime Expo recently and saw a whole slew of people cosplaying as inhabitants from the Attack on Titan universe. How does that series compare considering there are currently no plans to have that air on television anywhere in America?

Google Trends of Sword Art Online (in blue), Premier League (in red) and Attack on Titan (in yellow) in the United States from August 2012 to August 2013

Google Trends of Sword Art Online (in blue), Premier League (in red) and Attack on Titan (in yellow) in the United States from August 2012 to August 2013

If anything, this tells me that Attack on Titan is more popular at this time than Sword Art Online ever was in America. I’m confident enough to say that this is probably the ideal series to move into the next tier of popularity among fans of anime in America. What exactly is that next tier? Naruto,

Google Trends of Sword Art Online (in blue), Attack on Titan (in Red) and Naruto (in yellow) in the United States from August 2012 to August 2013

Google Trends of Sword Art Online (in blue), Attack on Titan (in Red) and Naruto (in yellow) in the United States from August 2012 to August 2013

So the takeaways from this are:

  • The popularity of anime airing on television in America is greater than when it is limited to online viewership.
  • Fans of Sword Art Online are fairly evenly spread across the United States.
  • The popularity of a show may coincide with when it airs in a particular region.
  • Naruto still continues to reign over most new series.
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