The Recency Bias and How it Affects Anime Appreciation

gundam z 36 kamille vs jerrid 1-legged BEST FIGHT EVAR

[Pic somehow related]

I just finished watching a lot of shows in the past 2 months, as well as read a lot of manga. I look at my recent archives and see how much samurai anime and manga I’ve bee consuming. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘oh wow, this is just the best thing ever.’ While there are those (some reviewers) who seem to behave as if that all good anime has already been seen (by them), there are those who experience each new show so powerfully that they run the risk of overrating them.

Here let’s look at the role of sequence order, particularly recency, and how it affects our behavior towards the media we consume.

I think about my top 10 favorite anime list, and note the shows that I’ve recently seen:

Anime Number of Times Viewed Last Viewed MAL Rating/Did Rating Change After Last Viewing?
Macross 3 March 2008 10/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing)

Eureka SeveN

2 (dropped, then completed) May 2009 10/Yes, formerly rated 6
Cowboy Bebop 5 2006 10/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing)
Neon Genesis Evangelion 3 2005 9/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing)
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 3 March 2009 10/No
Legend of the Galactic Heroes 1 January 2009 10/Not Applicable (viewed only once)

Giant Robo: the Day the Earth Stood Still

2 June 2009 10/Yes, formerly rated 9
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Incomplete (36 episodes)
Currently viewing Not Applicable (note: I’m very familiar w/ the plot having seen the movie compilation trilogy w/c I rated 7, 4, & 7 respectively)
Honey and Clover 2
1 2007 8/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing)
Seirei no Moribito
1 June 2009 10/Not Applicable (viewed only once)

For Reconsideration:

Anime Number of Times Viewed Last Viewed MAL Rating/Did Rating Change After Last Viewing?
Banner of the Stars 2 1 June 2008 9/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing; scheduled for re-watch)

In the top 10 table, the bottom three are targeted for relegation/re-ranking; depending on my experience of re-watching Banner of the Stars 2. Note that I have seen 6 of the 10 shows ranked this year (either fresh or via re-watch).

Let us now consider shows that I considered for the list, but have been replaced by the current ranked shows:

Anime Number of Times Viewed Last Viewed MAL Rating/Did Rating Change After Last Viewing?
Aria the Natural 1 April 2009 9/Not Applicable (viewed only once)


2 2007 9/(was not a MAL member during last viewing)
Code Geass: R1 2 2008 9/Not Applicable (was not a MAL member during last viewing)
Lucky Star 2 2008 9/No
Umi ga Kikoeru 4 June 2009 10/No

Save for two examples, It’s been almost a year since I last saw these would-be favorites. Also, something to consider is how I saw most of the anime in my list in a span of a year starting last year (over 100 titles). Still, these shows replaced favorites I had from as recent as 2003 to shows from my childhood, like Slam Dunk, Great Teacher Onizuka, Dragon Ball Z, Ninja Scroll, Ruroni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal, Vision of Escaflowne, Kare Kano, Choudenji Machine Voltes V, and Tossho Daimos, not to mention a bunch of Studio Ghibli works.

I sometimes think that the more I watch, the better I get at noticing details I like. The beneficiaries of this growth are firstly myself, because I enjoy more, I remember love more, etc. — then the anime I watch. It’s not enough to say that I wasn’t ready to enjoy Eureka SeveN when I saw it for the first time and dropped it after seven episodes. When I saw it last month, I was supremely ready. It was as if I had all these tools, all these other texts to cross reference it with, also I had such a forum to play with (this blog), and a community to appreciate it with me (remembering their own love for the show).

This should say something about my proclivity to revisit shows. It’s not so much that I missed several things in my first (few) viewings (I probably missed more than just several things), but also I’ll be bringing so many new things to the viewing that will make for an interesting and potentially new favorite experience.

Is this necessarily a good thing now?

I speculate that the recency effect, which results in a bias among people to value recent events more than earlier ones, to form overall positive opinions on shows like Toradora!, Macross Frontier, and Code Geass: R2.; and some negative opinions concerning Xam’d: Lost Memories. This is not to say that finales in general don’t address concerns raised while watching the earlier episodes. What I am speculating, is that the emotional highs that finales are designed to deliver, are also designed to devalue plot concerns, world-building concerns, character turn concerns, etc. A big bang at the end makes us easier to please, it makes it easier for us to overlook problems we’ve had about the show. Instead of thinking of the show as a complete whole, we can be buoyed by an awesome finale.

Before I started watching Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (TV), my favorite part of the franchise is Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. It was half of what comprised a 4,000 word post of mecha faggotry (which is strangely also one of the most viewed posts here on WRL). I mentioned there that the mecha designs in Stardust Memory are probably the best in Gundam, and I still feel that way.

This is relevant due to the events last Saturday (June 13) in the recent Toy Convention here in the Philippines. I was tipped by good old Schneider of Continuing World blog that there was a 1/100 Master Grade Gundam RX-78-GP01 Fb ‘Zephyranthes’ model kit up for grabs for only USD 32.52. This was a Gundam that Kawamori Shoji desinged, the fulfillment of his otaku dream. It was a steal of a deal. Of course I had to buy it.

gundam gunpla master grade rx-78-gpo1 fb

BUT I DIDN’T. Why? It was there for the taking! I had no real reason not to do it save for the fact that I’m running out of space to display my toys, and that I was getting the two kits I had worked on for me (RX-792, and Zaku II). The real reason was that mechafetish and I were watching Turn-A Gundam all afternoon, and were playing Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 (on the Playstation 3) with both of us using the Turn-A Gundam. So I didn’t buy the GP01 because I bought something else (and it wasn’t Ozma’s VF-25 which was available):

gundam gunpla master grade turn-aI BOUGHT THE FREAKING TURN-A. D00D, IT HAS A MUSTACHE, AN UPSIDE-DOWN MUSTACHE. It wasn’t even as cheap at USD 40.99. It was on sale, but it’s SRP was only USD 45.43. It wasn’t that good a deal. It was just episodes 37 and 38 were so awesome in its weird (I mean weird like you never think weird would be like) Tomino way, and I felt compelled to have a Turn-A Gundam for myself. Recency bias for the fail. Never mind, I’m happy.

Other things to consider:

I don’t mean it for you to take the trends in the tables I presented at face value. I can also say that the newer anime I watch benefit from more refined filters (my taste, and the taste of trusted recommenders); this would lead to a positive trend in watching better shows as time goes by. Consider this exercise: Just watch the top 5 MAL favorites of the bloggers/reviewers you trust (the shows you haven’t seen yet). The probability of you finding a new candidate for favorite anime will be quite high. This result may have only a tangential relationship with the recency bias phenomenon.

Returning readers may perhaps have noticed that I’m not big on conclusions. That too, is by design. I do not have enough information, research, or plain smarts to write something definitive or conclusive about this. I do think it is an interesting subject, and my purpose is to present it for discussion with a view of putting other people’s smarts to work on it. What else we can discover about this? Do tell.

Further Reading

Spend a few minutes reading this search result. Not all examples will fit, but you can see the bias at work if you look long and hard enough [->]
How I ended up watching all that anime (over 100 shows in a year? FFFFFFFF [->]
Recency Bias in wikipedia [->]
I got out-remembered love by another blogger in another blog post; it’s a post I wish I wrote myself regarding re-watching shows and where you are in life when you watch them: a must-read (otou-san 2009/06/18)
Two posts by mechafetish that cross-references well with this post; the 1st one is cool, the second one is wicked [1] [2]
My new kits: Feddie, Zeon.
Some of the charms of the Turn-A Gundam [->]
Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Don’t know where to start? Find your Gateway Gundam!

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, fanboy, Gundam, meta and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to The Recency Bias and How it Affects Anime Appreciation

  1. DonKangolJones says:

    So went from a 0080 fanboy to Turn A fanboy. I’m not a fan of the design and I’m only lukewarm towards that particular part of the metaseries, but I like that fact that everyone has a favorite Gundam and they are very often very different. It’s almost a generational thing. By the way, that Turn A kit looks badass, puts my pitiful Deathscythe Hell kit to shame!

    I find myself dealing with the recency issue from time to time. I still have to rewatch Toradora and R2, but I doubt my opinions will change very much. Very often rewatching stuff helps solidify why I adored a series, or movie so much. Except for Eva, I believe I’ve actually watched that so much that its boring. I might have to rewatch it in 2 years. Or after the re-imagined movies have finished airing.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’ve seen up to episode 41 of Turn A Gundam and I must say I’m very sympathetic to its charms. However I don’t think it’ll be cracking my favorites list. It’s enough for me to say that I really like it, and my amassing behavior reflects it lol.

      Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam however, is consistently solidifying itself as the show that represents what I love most about the franchise, only that I’m not as big a fan of the stupendous amount of mecha in it as I hoped I would. I’m still a Stardust Memory fag that way.

      I’m feeling good about the kit, can’t wait to see it in its fully built glory.

  2. Kabitzin says:

    I’ve found that I almost never rewatch series anymore, especially series that I blogged about. I don’t know if this is because I suck the marrow dry in coming up with stuff to post about every single episode or if I just keep too full a viewing schedule to go back, but I’ve found I tend to prefer looking back with nostalgia over going back and being disappointed.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I sympathize with your preference, I’d rather remember love than look back and suddenly see all sorts of nonsense. Otou-san’s post is a good read related to this sentiment I think [->]

      The phenomenon you described (sucking the marrow dry) I think is the cost of making good episodic posts. But try to look at your archives for shows that you blogged that are very similar, only far apart in years (as much as possible). Should you do this, let me know if you’d write the same things/the same way about the older series given your experience/growth. There might be something here that supports a case for rewatches.

      I think your packed viewing schedule is also a factor indeed. It’s another topic altogether, but I do think there are these things that we bloggers do that may get in the way of our enjoyment of shows. It’s not an either/or scenario, but I’ve noted this in some of the hiatus or quits posts I’ve read.

  3. Kiri says:

    I love rewatching series I hold/once held in high regard but haven’t seen in so long that I’ve forgotten most of it. My rewatch of Gundam Wing currently is probably the best case scenario where I not only remember love, but realize and understand so much more than I did the last time I’d seen it because I’ve matured so much both as a person and as an otaku. It seems it’s actually pretty rare that I like something less the second or third time around, but then again, I’m less likely to rewatch something if I don’t think I’ll gain something from having seen it again.

    The recency bias for me seems most obvious in my MAL favorites’ list — none of the series listed are more than ten years old. But you can also consider my most recent struggle with updating said favorites’ list, where I consider a bunch of series I’d seen more recently and hold in high regard as well. In that case, it’s nostalgia v. recency. And perhaps an accumulation of rewatches? I’ve seen every series on my favorites’ list at least twice, but all of the new contenders have yet to be rewatched. If rewatching usually leads to a better appreciation, then it would make sense that the new contenders won’t be able to match up against the incumbent titles until I’ve seen them at least once more.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Your first paragraph is something I can repeat to other people as if I said it myself (except teh Gundam Wing part WWwwWWw). Yes on all counts save one.

      Nostalgia vs. recency controlled by rewatch number per show is an interesting formula, though I’m nowhere as sure how useful it’ll be.

      This too, is a dynamic that informs our discussion about timelessness in your blog post on it IMO.

  4. kadian1364 says:

    If I can identify your idea correctly, it’s that the things fresher in our minds tend to inflate our evaluations of them while older favorites fade away. Certainly, whatever is current and new would hold our momentary interest most, but I don’t think you give lasting impressions and eternal appeal enough weight. At least for me, I’m actively conscious about recency issues, to the point that I won’t consider certain series “all-time favorites” until I’ve rewatched them at least 3-4 times with lengthy spans of time between (say 3-4 months).

    For reference, my Top 10:
    10 – Gurren Lagann
    9 – Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal
    8 – Azumanga Daioh
    7 – Macross: Do You Remember Love
    6 – Cowboy Bebop
    5 – Castle in the Sky
    4 – Kino’s Journey
    3 – Haibane Renmei
    2 – Kare Kano
    1 – Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars (I consider the 3 series one collective work)

    I think I’ve changed this list twice in the last 4 years (other than arbitrary number shuffling):
    1) The addition of Gurren Lagann (the selection I struggled with most).
    2) Macross: DYRL is, funnily enough, the oldest title on my list, but a film I have never seen until early this year. Suffice to say, I have since jumped onto that dinosaur-pulled bandwagon.

    Despite the frequency which I watch the selections on my list (as often as once every year), I’d argue that its because I love them so much, as opposed to the other way around. Or is this a matter of the proverbial chicken and egg?

    • ghostlightning says:

      I think the bias is a tendency that can be prepared for, but not without risks. The most dangerous would be watching a show from the perspective of thorough comparison with one’s favorites. This is not necessarily a bad thing, only that should I do this I risk failing to enjoy the show on its own merits, or failing to enjoy period.

      In your case, your familiarity with your favorite shows due to regular rewatches does prevent the recency bias, only that you may want to consider the risk I just mentioned.

      Most people may not have the luxury to rewatch as often as you do, so your case is quite the exception.

      • kadian1364 says:

        I see what you mean about the dangers of constant evaluation against my favorites, but that doesn’t typically happen unless there are parallels in storyline and characterization that invite those comparisons. To be a basketball fag for a moment, I would compare Kobe to MJ because he takes so much of his style from Jordan, uses the same moves, plays in the same offense, plays with the same coach, etc. Lebron gets reprieve from these comparisons because he’s not like any basketball player I’ve memory of seeing.

        I think memory of favorites can also improve appreciation of newer titles, something you said to the effect of yourself. Like how you enjoy all these mech shows because you were a fan since forever, I’m especially drawn to slice-of-life comedies, Hidamari Sketch, Lucky Star, Sketchbook ~full colors~, because Azumanga Daioh left so many great memories for me that I can’t help but thirst for more.

        • ghostlightning says:

          Gotcha, I agree (great examples too)!

          And big-ups for the basketball faggotry. FYI I’ve been a Lakers fan since ’96 (the draft year of 2 current players ~_^), when Shaq got signed from LOLrlando. So yeah it’s fun to be champs again (not that you were asking).

  5. gaguri says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, and I think that is true for lot of cases. Funnily enough, I felt the ending of Seirei was ‘ok’, but very weak, especially compared to more excellent parts in the beginning.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’m okay with our different takes on Seirei (I enjoyed the final arc more than the beginning, and enjoyed the slow middle arc the most), after all I don’t expect everyone to enjoy Macross – a big part of my agenda in this blog.

      That said, I’m wary of the recency bias influencing me not in terms of my enjoyment or rating, but in my placement of it in my favorites list.

      • ghostlightning says:

        Update: a recent viewing of Banner of the Stars 2 (and 1, and the preceding Crest of the Stars) made me reconsider my rating of Seirei no Moribito not just my ranking.

        Here, I entertain another, different pitfall: that of the forced ranking. I’m beset with the idea/feeling of “Seirei can’t possibly be a 10 if I only rated Banner a 9.”

        I think it’s certainly possible, but acknowledging my problems, I’m going to revise my rating to an 8 anyway, which means Very Good (not ‘merely’ Very Good, but Very Good). Everything I’ve said about it still stands, only that the number I put on it is re-calibrated.

        What would make it ‘great’ for me? (this is a very subjective thing, keep in mind) if it were of larger ambition. It’s actually a smaller story that looks big (and this is a good thing). I tend to favor, big stories that look really big, which would probably move Honey and Clover out of my top 10 as well.

  6. ROFLMAO! You are the second person to bring up my tendency to say ‘best X ever’ a lot this week! Obviously, I don’t put any meaning behind the phrase, it’s only meant to mean ‘this thing is significantly awesome’, but I hadn’t thought people would notice how often I say it lol. Not quite on the level of ‘fucking awesome’ or ‘badass’ though.

    Anyway, nice post, and I’ve dealt a LOOOOOOOOT with this stuff while developing my favorites list, now regulated by epic journey.

    • ghostlightning says:

      LULZ. Now I think I can safely assume that you understand that such statements lose a whole lot of meaning the more frequent they are used. Since you review anime, it may not be a good thing for you to continue this practice as it may confuse and ultimately put off readers of your archives, future readers, etc.

  7. X10A_Freedom says:

    I don’t have the opportunity to do re-watches these days, although I do want to watch Gundam Seed (crap, a 50 episoder) some day. Why?

    Seed vs Aria has caused me great grief on my MAL favourates list and it may be due to the recency bias that I decided to put Aria #1 (watched in 2007-08), Seed #2 (watched in 2005).

    It’s probably simply because your memories and emotions are far more fresh from recent events. Sure, I still remember the story of Seed pretty well but the emotional rollercoaster that I got while watching has lost its influence. The magic “feel” of Aria is also fading away a year after its climax. Most of my anime only spans the last 5 years, as retro stuff isn’t as easy on my eyes, and are hard to find.

    I try to have a level of objectivity and think very hard about reshuffling favourate orders at MAL but Aria vs Seed still continues to trouble me today.

    Anyway, currently it’s:
    1. Aria
    2. Seed
    3. School Rumble
    4. Mai-Hime
    5. Nodame Cantabile
    (6. Future Boy Conan)

    • ghostlightning says:

      There’s nothing like the first time, if the first time gave you surprise among the emotions you got.

      In my case I discover new emotional realms in my rewatching, because mainly i’m a different person by the time of my subsequent viewings. But it could go either way, as I’m sure there are shows I used to like a lot but I can’t bear to watch now. Check out mechafetish’s posts, and otou-san’s post in the ‘Further Reading’ section; relevant to your interests I believe.

  8. Well the way my brain is hardwired results in my minds eye viewing time and experience as part of a collective rather than a sequential line across which my ability to conjure up thoughts is lost. My earliest memories and experiences are as clear to me as what happened to me yesterday as long as I considered them a significant experience. As such I don’t tend to suffer from recency bias as much, but I am open to newer series taking old favourite’s places in my list of all time greats should they prove themselves worthy.

  9. coburn says:

    I absolutely agree on the ‘finales’ thing. I think that they aren’t just emotional highs, they force us to reinterpret past experiences in a way which can overwhelm how we actually felt back then.

    It seems to me like there’s a slight difficulty in assessing recency bias while talking about re-watching. Maybe it’s because I’ve not been watching things for nearly as long as you, but when I do re-watch the affect is almost invariably to inflate my opinion of the show, but, I’d say, not really because it’s fresher in the mind, or because I’m a better watcher. Instead it’s a sense of familiarity and personal ‘ownership’ of of the story. Almost like the whole watching experience takes on the tone of a final episode.

    I’d like to be self-critical in this regard, say that I should judge a show as something intended to be seen in one televised run, but, as you say “The beneficiaries of this growth are firstly myself, because I enjoy more, I remember love more, etc.”

    • ghostlightning says:

      What I take from this is that there really is a distinction between enjoying a show, and another hobby altogether which is ‘being a collector/conossieur’ — where all this rating and favoring activities fall into.

      Right now I’m stressing myself out about the ratings I gave some of those shows, and seeing how my recency bias is prevalent when I thought I dealt with it.

      Here’s the thing, I enjoyed the hell out of these shows. This stress is only brought about by my insistence to create order out of my enjoyment, and to make material out of it for expressive activities such as blogging. Perhaps these are the costs of ‘doing business,’ so to speak.

  10. Ronin says:

    Not really related, but does anyone know what happened to Naruto on the cartoon network?

  11. omisyth says:

    “Oh, we’re sorry if our show had flaws but look! It’s the finale! Swelling music and emotion, climaxes and explosions! Love us again!” LOL

    If a finale is good enough, then at times it doesn’t matter what the flaws the show had. As long as it left you on a high and feeling satisfied, it doesn’t matter. Though I am getting better at discerning what I do and do not like in anime, I try not to focus on those things when I watch a show. If I go into it wanting to find those things, I don’t think I’d enjoy the show as much.

    • ghostlightning says:

      If you think about it, very little really ‘matters’ if the objective of the exercise is merely to enjoy. And if the objective is to enjoy, the viewer has more influence on the experience as opposed as merely being a passive reactionary, as if ‘waiting to be impressed.’ I find it difficult to enjoy things when I’m ‘waiting to be impressed.’ Otherwise, I find myself actively looking for things in the show or the manga to get pumped about, that way, the half-hour I spend on an episode that I’m never going to get back is spent having fun.

      However, my response to coburn:

      What I take from this is that there really is a distinction between enjoying a show, and another hobby altogether which is ‘being a collector/conossieur’ — where all this rating and favoring activities fall into.

      Right now I’m stressing myself out about the ratings I gave some of those shows, and seeing how my recency bias is prevalent when I thought I dealt with it.

      Here’s the thing, I enjoyed the hell out of these shows. This stress is only brought about by my insistence to create order out of my enjoyment, and to make material out of it for expressive activities such as blogging. Perhaps these are the costs of ‘doing business,’ so to speak.

      This whole set of activities that’s part of being a fan (and a blogger) that actually may get in the way of ‘pure’ enjoyment of the show. In exchange they provide different kinds of enjoyment, including but not limited to discussion in comment threads — which to me is a very good source of enjoyment indeed.

  12. sadakups says:

    I usually rewatch a title after completing its “live run” (i.e., weekly) or even a full watch (i.e., marathon) and I tend to understand stuff or notice something I missed the first time.

    Like how I appreciated Gundam 00 more, or seen more reasons why Gundam SEED Destiny sucked ass, reruns do affect my anime appreciation.

    • ghostlightning says:

      It’s hard for me to rewatch something immediately after its live run, but your method seems to have merit… interesting.

      • sadakups says:

        Not really immediately. Like a few months after the live run.

        Recently, there’s Eden of the East. It just ended, but I’ll probably do a rewatch before the movie comes out on teh internetz. For a mystery series, it deserves a rewatch.

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  18. Jack says:

    I certainly get this cropping up when I watch a selection of works from a director that I really enjoy. Before I start watching, I might think to myself “This is my favourite”. Yet, after I’ve watched some other movie by the same director I will inevitably think “No, this is my favourite!

    It may the process of ranking shows somewhat trickier, but I suppose it’s all so subjective in the end.

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