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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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~