Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

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Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#1 Post by BunnyAdvocate » Tue May 08, 2018 1:57 pm

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The Western VN fandom has long idolised the Japanese VN market. Before the recent growth of the EVN scene and official localisations, Western VN fans had to subsist only on the occasional fan-translations of Japanese VNs while being told how much better the untranslated VNs were. However this faith in untranslated VNs rested on an unspoken assumption: that Western and Japanese VN fans enjoy the same content. But is it true? Through comparing the largest VN fandom site in Japan (erogamescape) against the largest VN fandom site in the West (VNDB), we sought to find out.

Do we love the same VNs?

While the ability of a numerical rating to summarise a subjective experience (like reading a VN) is debatable, the average score a community assigns a VN provides a useful approximation of how highly esteemed that VN is within the community. Both EGS and VNDB allow users to rate VNs they’ve read, so comparing how the same VN scores on both sites gives us an impression of how much the communities agree on which VNs are best.

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We can see there’s a strong correlation between the score a VN gets on each site, especially for higher rated VNs, showing that both communities tend to agree on which VNs are considered “the best” (despite the ferocious arguments within each fandom over that same question). But as the score drops, so does the agreement over the VN score. So while both communities tend to agree on what’s good, we disagree on what’s bad.

There’s also another trend that’s a little less noticeable, but becomes more apparent if we remove the untranslated VNs...

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While the untranslated VNs in the last graph seemed to fairly evenly straddle the equal score line, the translated VNs are frequently below it (meaning these VNs score higher on EGS than VNDB). But is the translation a cause or an effect of the lower score on VNDB (i.e. does the release of a translation lower the score on VNDB, or are only low-scoring VNs being translated)? To answer this, we tracked how the VNDB score of a VN changes immediately after a translation is released.

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We tracked 117 of the most popular Japanese VNs that had an English translation released in the past 5 years. In the first 60 days after their translation was released, their score dropped an average of 0.146 on VNDB, with Fata Morgana being the blip on the far right that significantly bucked the trend and increased in score. There also seems to be slight correlation with lower-rated VNs on EGS dropping more than higher-rated ones.

So it seems confirmed that the translations are the cause rather than an effect. But why does this happen? This remains the subject of fierce debate among my friends, but we came up with a few theories:
  • Japanese VNs are made for Japanese tastes, so Western fans might not enjoy them to the same extent. Western fans who learn Japanese and use VNDB might align more with the taste of Japanese fans rather than with their fellow Western fans.
  • The high barrier of entry for a Westerner to read an untranslated VN (they have to know Japanese) filters out those who have only a casual interest in the VN. So the pre-translation score is dominated by hard-core fans who are more likely to rate it higher.
  • The experience of reading a translation can be inferior to reading prose in its original language, so VNDB users rating a VN based on that translation might assign lower scores than those reading the original text.
  • The larger drop in score for lower-rated VNs might be because they don’t attract the same care and attention by their translators, with any official localisation likely done on a lower-budget.
VN popularity

It isn’t just through scores that we can measure a communities’ tastes, we can also estimate a VN’s popularity through the number of votes it gets. In comparing the number of votes the same VN gets on EGS and VNDB, we can see whether the same VNs are popular in both Japan and the West.

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Note that this chart is using a log scale.

The most obvious trend is the clear split between translated and untranslated VNs. Unsurprisingly, translated VNs and EVNs do significantly better on VNDB than untranslated VNs. But we Western fans aren’t especially choosey, even fairly unpopular VNs on EGS can attract large fanbases on VNDB if they’re translated.

Given that translations aren’t random, they require either dedicated fan-translators or a localiser willing to invest in them, it’s surprising that the translated VNs span the entire width of popularity on EGS. So we might have expected it to skew more to the right, with unpopular EGS VNs being much less likely to get a translation. While the ratio of translated-untranslated VNs is higher for more popular EGS VNs, no VN seems to be beyond the prospect of being translated, no matter how unpopular it is.

Overall, while there remains a correlation in popularity between EGS and VNDB, it’s far weaker than the score correlation. This mismatch might partially be down to the age of the communities. VNs have been a popular niche of the Japanese market for decades, but were virtually unknown in the West before the 2010s. So there’s quite a number of 80s-00s era JVNs that have hundreds of votes on EGS, but are practically unheard of on VNDB.

Differences in taste

So far we’ve been looking at each VN as a whole, but can we delve deeper? A VN can be seen as a package of tropes: childhood-friend heroine, tsundere heroine, dumb male protagonist that’s inexplicably beloved by all (these 3 criteria should narrow us down to approximately 90% of all VNs ever made /s). Through comparing the scores of VNs that have a trope against those who don’t, we can get an impression of how popular that trope is.

Fortunately we don’t have to determine these tropes ourselves, both EGS and VNDB allow users to apply tags to a VN which denote the type of content it has. So let’s start simple and see which tags are correlated with a higher average score on EGS.

This world cloud ranks the EGS tags by the average score of the VNs they appear in, with higher scores being placed higher on the chart, so we can see what type of content is most lauded on EGS. The text size is proportional to the number of VNs that tag appears in, so we can see what’s a common trope and what’s rare.

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A full size version of this image is available here, and a spreadsheet version is available here. Note that this is mostly using google translate for the EGS tags, so the labels are… imaginative.

Generally, it seems like complex VNs (with tags such as “intelligent,” “to solve a mystery” and “difficult to get”) are the most highly rated, while more sexual oriented tags seem to be linked with lower average scores (which is probably due to nukige/porn VNs). It also seems Japanese fans value the *novel* over the *visual* element in their VNs, with “CG is beautiful” being rated quite poorly. Towards the bottom are tags mostly related to being old or low-budget (with tags such as “Low price” and “XP supported”).

This has only shown us what Japanese fans like, but we’re more focused on how Japanese and Western fans compare. So instead, let’s try comparing which VNDB tags are correlated with a VN scoring higher on VNDB or EGS.

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A full size version of this image is available here, and a spreadsheet version is available here.

It seems like Western fans value romance and slice of life type stories more than Japanese fans do, whereas Japanese fans are more generous with their nukige/porn ratings. Perhaps we’re more judgemental in our view of sexual content here in the West? Japanese settings also seem to be more favoured among the Western fandom than the Japanese, the weeabooism is real /s. Slightly disappointing is how poorly female protagonists do in the Western fandom. While otomes are widespread in the EVN market, they remain a relatively unpopular niche on VNDB.

Differences in the marketplace

We’ve compared the taste between the Japanese and Western fandoms, but we haven’t looked at the differing availability of VNs in the markets. Are certain types of content more likely to be translated than others? How does the the home-grown Western VN industry differ from the Japanese one?

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A full size version of this image is available here, and a spreadsheet version is available here.

It seems that action/violent type content -whether in the form of police investigations or wars- are especially popular subjects for translated VNs. Female protagonists are also surprisingly high, especially since otomes don’t seem to be translated that often, but that might be because an even smaller proportion of nukige/porn type VNs are translated, and they overwhelmingly have male protagonists.

Lastly, let’s look at the EVNs. With a negligible presence in Japan (there were only 4 EVNs on EGS with at least 4 votes), we can’t really compare what the fans prefer, but we can see how the markets differ in the kind of content they produce. This next chart tracks which VNDB tags are more common in EVNs vs JVNs.

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A full size version of this image is available here, and a spreadsheet version that includes more tags is available here. The sexual content tags were removed because there’s so little sexual content in EVNs that it seemed a waste of space, and it gave room to include rarer content type tags.

The clearest difference between the markets is in the amount of porn, there’s exceedingly little in EVNs. This is likely due to the smaller budget for EVNs which would preclude h-scene artwork, and restrictions on adult content on Steam discouraging such content.

EVNs encompass a broader range of protagonists than JVNs with LGBTQ+ related content being much more common, and female protagonists being as common as males (unlike JVNs where female protagonists make up only a small proportion of VNs). But JVNs can be inclusive in other ways, like being the sole representation of protagonists who can turn into panties.

Stories relating to personal difficulties, especially regarding depression, seem much more common in EVNs too. They also seem more willing to break from the usual high-school settings of JVNs, having more university aged and above characters.

Criticisms

Before we get carried away with forming any stereotypes of Japanese and Western fanbases from this data, let’s consider a few issues with the data.
  • The VNDB and EGS userbase might not be representative of the wider Western/Japanese fandom. As per some of our earlier analysis posts, VNDB significantly undercounts the popularity of EVNs for example. So some caution should be taken in extrapolating what the wider fanbase likes based on this data.
  • It’s easy to mix up cause and effect. Are sci-fi stories better than other stories and that’s why they’re associated with higher scores? Or is it that VNs that care about their story are just more likely to have a sci-fi setting?
  • Some trends, like what type of content is more likely to be translated, might just be tracking the changing tastes of the era. With older VNs being less likely to be translated than newer VNs, the charts might just be picking up on what kind of content has become more popular in recent years.
  • The dataset has some errors. EGS and VNDB catalogue VNs differently and that can cause some mismatches in the data. We’ve done our best to account for that, but with the dataset being so large, some mistakes will have slipped through.
Acknowledgements

A big thank you to /u/8cccc9, Part-Time Storier, and Cibelle for helping with this analysis.

I hope you enjoyed reading through this, and if so, you should check out my tumblr and twitter for more VN analysis posts. If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions for further analyses then you can reply here, on twitter, or DM me on Discord (Sunleaf_Willow /(^ n ^=)\#1616).

Our next analysis post is likely to be on h-scenes. What type of content is most highly regarded by the fandom? How has the popularity in the fandom of certain sexual acts risen erect and fallen limp over time? How is the EVN market handling sexual content in contrast to Japan? Hopefully we’ll have lots of answers (and some painful puns) next time~

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#2 Post by Fuseblower » Tue May 08, 2018 2:43 pm

Protagonists who can turn into panties? .... Only in Japan :lol:

Very interesting post. Thanks for making it!

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#3 Post by Mammon » Tue May 08, 2018 4:32 pm

A VN can be seen as a package of tropes: childhood-friend heroine, tsundere heroine, dumb male protagonist that’s inexplicably beloved by all (these 3 criteria should narrow us down to approximately 90% of all VNs ever made /s).
Truer words have never been spoken.

I'd like to say that this was a really interesting and comprehensible research as usual, but this time my eyes were spinning and fell from the vertigo with a little white ghost leaking out of my mouth. Those are some really frightingly large images of a lot of words that my head can't make sense of. The text around it was very interesting though!
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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#4 Post by BunnyAdvocate » Tue May 08, 2018 4:36 pm

Fuseblower wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 2:43 pm
Protagonists who can turn into panties? .... Only in Japan :lol:
The craziest part is that it's common enough for its own tag on VNDB.
Mammon wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 4:32 pm
I'd like to say that this was a really interesting and comprehensible research as usual, but this time my eyes were spinning and fell from the vertigo with a little white ghost leaking out of my mouth. Those are some really frightingly large images of a lot of words that my head can't make sense of. The text around it was very interesting though!
Haha yeah those word clouds are hard to read. There are higher resolution versions if you check the link below each image (in case you didn't see it). Also you might find the spreadsheet versions easier to read. It was tricky because I wanted to make the text much larger to make it easier to read, but that would mean removing less common tags (which tended to be the most interesting ones). I'm not sure how best to present that kind of data.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#5 Post by Morhighan » Tue May 08, 2018 11:46 pm

Thank you for your hard work, as always! :D I'm always fascinated by your work.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#6 Post by Empish » Wed May 09, 2018 8:47 am

Okay, so maybe I'm just not getting it. But although this analysis is very interesting and cool.... I don't know what conclusions to draw from it. Idk, maybe I'm just not awake yet.

Also, shame on you for those puns. xD

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#7 Post by BunnyAdvocate » Wed May 09, 2018 10:28 am

Morhighan wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 11:46 pm
Thank you for your hard work, as always! :D I'm always fascinated by your work.
Thanks Morgihan!
Empish wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 8:47 am
Okay, so maybe I'm just not getting it. But although this analysis is very interesting and cool.... I don't know what conclusions to draw from it. Idk, maybe I'm just not awake yet.

Also, shame on you for those puns. xD
Those word clouds in particular can be pretty hard to make sense of at first. There's so much information crammed into them. Also the language is a bit dense at times, so I totally get how it can be a little hard to read sometimes.

I should have probably had a little summary section in my post, but I didn't want to repeat myself too much. So here's a brief write up:
  • Japanese and Western fans tend to agree on which VNs deserve the highest score, but disagree on lower scoring VNs (a lot of stuff we might think is "ok" they dislike, and vice versa).
  • There isn't a strong overlap in what's popular (as in most readers) between the communities, as long as a VN has a translation, it can be pretty popular here in the West.
  • Japanese users tend to most highly rate "intelligent" stories (as they tag it), with cheaper and older content tending to get lower ratings.
  • Western fans enjoy mysteries and romance content more than Japanese fans, but are harsher on nukige/porn content in their ratings.
  • Actiony/thriller type content seems to be the most likely to get translated.
  • EVNs tend to have far more female protagonists and address LGBTQ+ issues, and are much less likely to have sexual content.
Yeah those puns at the end were baaaaaaaaad, but I couldn't resist.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#8 Post by Empish » Wed May 09, 2018 10:50 am

Sweet, thanks for the digest! It'll be interesting to see if these trends continue in the future or evolve into something different.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#9 Post by Dirtblast_McSass » Wed May 09, 2018 12:00 pm

A great analyst! Thank you for sharing.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#10 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Wed May 09, 2018 3:50 pm

So apparently the secret to EVN success is - have a female protagonist who is a foreign transfer student to a school in Japan who lives in the dorms and is secretly a mischievous goddess (from Japanese mythology - a fox goddess for maximum VNDB points) that has lost her memories. Oh, and she is friends with a set of twins and has a romance option available with her cousin. And you can unlock sexy-sex pictures of everyone! Do I win at Visual Novels? :lol:

Interesting research as always, and sort of what I'd expect. Always looking forward to more of your analysis.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#11 Post by trooper6 » Wed May 09, 2018 7:33 pm

You know, I always feel a bit invisible being an EVN fan who didn't come into the genre from JVNs...nor EVNs that tried to be J I am hardly ever on vndb, finding my games either here on lemmasoft or through indie and art game reviews. I was over on the visual novel reddit and felt like I really wasn't welcome.

I don't know if there are lots of us who found VNs through Digital: A Love Story rather than Katawa Shoujo ...but I always feel a bit invisible.

It is what it is though.

But your analysis is, as always, very welcome!
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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#12 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Wed May 09, 2018 8:28 pm

trooper6 wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 7:33 pm
You know, I always feel a bit invisible being an EVN fan who didn't come into the genre from JVNs...nor EVNs that tried to be J I am hardly ever on vndb, finding my games either here on lemmasoft or through indie and art game reviews. I was over on the visual novel reddit and felt like I really wasn't welcome.

I don't know if there are lots of us who found VNs through Digital: A Love Story rather than Katawa Shoujo ...but I always feel a bit invisible.

It is what it is though.
I came into the genre from JVNs - namely True Love '95 (which kind of blew my mind at the time) and other titles. But I don't use VNDB either, mainly because I find it so horrendously designed. It's like someone made it in 1998, and said "Eh, good enough" for 20 years. I just find it hard to use and not useful - I'm not interested in user ratings most of the time, and it doesn't seem like a good platform for discovering new titles. And at least the Japanese VN database doesn't use blue text on a black background. :|

I'm like you, I discover new games from either here on Lemmasoft or through reviews and articles on websites.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#13 Post by BunnyAdvocate » Wed May 09, 2018 10:24 pm

Thanks guys! It means a lot to know you guys enjoyed it.
LateWhiteRabbit wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 3:50 pm
So apparently the secret to EVN success is - have a female protagonist who is a foreign transfer student to a school in Japan who lives in the dorms and is secretly a mischievous goddess (from Japanese mythology - a fox goddess for maximum VNDB points) that has lost her memories. Oh, and she is friends with a set of twins and has a romance option available with her cousin. And you can unlock sexy-sex pictures of everyone! Do I win at Visual Novels? :lol:
Hahaha, are we seeing the birth of the first universally acclaimed EVN masterpiece?
trooper6 wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 7:33 pm
You know, I always feel a bit invisible being an EVN fan who didn't come into the genre from JVNs...nor EVNs that tried to be J I am hardly ever on vndb, finding my games either here on lemmasoft or through indie and art game reviews. I was over on the visual novel reddit and felt like I really wasn't welcome.

I don't know if there are lots of us who found VNs through Digital: A Love Story rather than Katawa Shoujo ...but I always feel a bit invisible.
Oh Digital: A Love Story was so good! It was something I read through before I knew about VNs, as I heard about it via a gaming website.

It's a shame there doesn't seem to be a significant EVN fandom site. Lemmnasoft is close to it, it feels more dev oriented than fan oriented. As per your experience, /r/visualnovels and Fuwanovel are both more focused on JVNs, and can get quite hostile towards EVNs. I believe there's a significant EVN fandom on tumblr, but I'm awful at navigating tumblr (see my #visualnovel #visual novel #visualnovels #visual novels tags on my post there) so I'm kind of oblivious to it and it's hard to get into.

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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#14 Post by trooper6 » Thu May 10, 2018 1:37 am

BunnyAdvocate wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 10:24 pm
Oh Digital: A Love Story was so good! It was something I read through before I knew about VNs, as I heard about it via a gaming website.

It's a shame there doesn't seem to be a significant EVN fandom site. Lemmnasoft is close to it, it feels more dev oriented than fan oriented. As per your experience, /r/visualnovels and Fuwanovel are both more focused on JVNs, and can get quite hostile towards EVNs. I believe there's a significant EVN fandom on tumblr, but I'm awful at navigating tumblr (see my #visualnovel #visual novel #visualnovels #visual novels tags on my post there) so I'm kind of oblivious to it and it's hard to get into.
That is exactly how I started. I heard about Digital through the indie/art game scene. Found it...thought it was amazing, learned it was made using something called "Renpy" found my way to these forums and then learned there was a thing called VNs...which seemed sort of like the old text games, interactive fiction, adventure games and I thought...how awesome!

Actually...I think I heard about Katawa Shoujo first...tried it out...didn't get very far because I didn't find it compelling...but didn't know that it was a "visual novel" and sort of forgot about it. I came back in with Digital.

I have long been really excited to be here on Lemma...and yeah, I'm working on my VN when I have time (which...summer is coming!). I went over to /r/visualnovls and Fuwanovel and...it got hostile. So...I came back here.

I used to follow VNsNow...which is dedicated to EVN reviews. I was always put off by the lead's attitudes about queerness and also sex, but I kept with with it...until his review of Doki Doki Literature Club which really turned my off and I haven't been back since.

So...no other place for me for VNs than here on Lemmasoft. But that's okay because cool people like LateWhiteRabbit are here!
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Re: Contrasting the Japanese and Western VN Fandoms

#15 Post by ComputerArt.Club » Thu May 10, 2018 10:03 am

Thanks for this! It was quite interesting and informative!
trooper6 wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 7:33 pm
You know, I always feel a bit invisible being an EVN fan who didn't come into the genre from JVNs...nor EVNs that tried to be J I am hardly ever on vndb, finding my games either here on lemmasoft or through indie and art game reviews. I was over on the visual novel reddit and felt like I really wasn't welcome.

I don't know if there are lots of us who found VNs through Digital: A Love Story rather than Katawa Shoujo ...but I always feel a bit invisible.

It is what it is though.
It was nice to read this, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people relate to this.
I can also say that I have felt like a bit of an outsider quite often, but perhaps that is common enough, similarly I think that a lot of places online can be quite unwelcoming at first, perhaps even on Lemmasoft newbies are intimidated by their lack of knowledge, I'm sure I was!

It is really easy to be invisible on a popular subreddit too and they are few places online that are welcoming of creators/indie developers trying to share their work/projects with anyone other than other developers.

3,000+ posts and a cookbook entry (with 10,000 + page views) seem to suggest that you're pretty visible now though!

I can also say that I had a winding route to Renpy, and it wasn't all paved with JVNs or EVNs, though I had some exposure to them too. Probably I first encountered Renpy while learning to make Interactive Fiction with ADRIFT and some other engines/interpreters, but I didn't really give it a proper go until I started the Computer Art Club and I was looking for open source art programs for my elementary school students.
trooper6 wrote:
Thu May 10, 2018 1:37 am
So...no other place for me for VNs than here on Lemmasoft.
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