An open letter to (anime) database owners

Dear database owner,

I’m not a huge fan of the open letter format - its use for pithy snark has long since diluted whatever potency it once had - so I’ll get right to the point: I want access to your data.

Not in a creepy stalker way, I don’t want to know your three sizes and nor do I want whatever user data you choose to collect. No, I’m talking about the data you have on anime and its minutiae - characters, staff, companies and all the tidbits in between. Whether you call it a database, an encyclopaedia, a list, a planet or otherwise, I’m interested.

But why?

To answer sometimes fleeting questions and to turn the anecdotal into the established. I did this a couple of years back to try and answer the then seasonal proclaimations of anime’s encroaching death and level of woe these new shows will bring upon humanity. That was really just the barest sliver of what could have been done though, here are just some of the questions I have rolling around in my head right now:

  • What is the canonical average age of characters in anime? The realisation that a lot of my favourite anime from the last decade involves adults, and not what seems to be the staple fourteen-sixteen year old age distribution. What’s the average (canonical) age, what’s the split between “teenagers” and adults, and most critically, is there a correlation between character age and review score?
  • What is the average height and height distribution within anime? After musing on an image from Steins;Gate I wondered if the canonical heights of anime characters match the measured Japanese distribution and whether there are cases, like with Steins;Gate, where the distribution of heights are as varied, or whether everyone is just a bland, homogenous height.
  • Can you track an animator/producer/director/character designer through their company history and correlate their career path with their work? A recent musing, primarily with studio Trigger’s GAINAX heritage and Kill La Kill’s obvious influences. Similarly, it would be great to find out if someone like Shinya Ohira had any obvious inspirations or conversely, any devotees left in his wake.

I can of course answer these questions on a small scale - for instance with Steins;Gate the standard deviation between main characters on AniDB is 12.9cm or over 5 inches while for Attack on Titan it’s 14.2cm. Using only two shows though, and only ones I’ve seen or heard of, is statistically silly and it would be fascinating to be able to try and answer these kinds of questions without resorting to screenscraping which is frowned upon at the best of times.

Indeed in my post I lamented the lack of open APIs - I am after all (sometimes) a web developer. I am not however a glassy eyed idealist ignorant of operational realities. A lovely, full featured data API from any of your databases would be phenomenal, however I imagine the simple obstacle to its implementation isn’t technical, but monetary. I know many of your sites operate entirely, or at least primarily, on advertising revenue and opening up data and managing that access does nothing but bleed money and time.

As much as I would love to ask you for an API, with my pragmatist hat on I can’t find a compelling reason why you would. One random chap’s request isn’t going to keep the lights on or help manage your community. So instead of taking the path of the digital hippy and asking for all data to roam free, I’ll make this a selfish request: can I get access to your data? I will sign whatever NDAs, SLAs, DPQs or contracts you need to feel comfortable, or donate as much time or expertise to make this endeavour break even.

Most of my questions that could be answered by access to that data are little more than idle curiosities, after all we’re talking the heights and ages of fictional animated characters; but sometimes they’re new ways of parsing existing information (how many shows a year has X worked on?); and sometimes they’re batshit crazy graph searches (seven degrees of Tomokazu Seki anyone?).

I won’t belabour the point, but suffice it to say I think this could be spiffy, otherwise I wouldn’t (rather impersonally) ask. Your database could be used for more awesome than it already is. Feel free to chalk this up to the frivolous scrawlings of an internet loon, or alternatively, talk to me.

Love and hugs


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