Anime-Planet.com, a worthy replacement for MyAnimeList?

Apparently, I’ve had an Anime Planet account since December of 2009. At least that’s what my import history tells me. But it’s only with the recently unbearable MyAnimeList slowdowns that I decided to give AP a fair chance. I thought I’d take more time writing this post, but for whatever reason, it came together pretty quick.

I’m going to take a deeper dive into AP and outline things that stand out to me. The nitpicking will outnumber the compliments, but that’s more a function of my having been a pretty heavy MAL user for the past few years. Comparing AP to MAL’s featureset (vs. the vice versa) just comes more naturally to me. But I tried to back up my “want list” with reasons where possible, so this didn’t read like I was being a petulant brat. But these are all my opinions of course. Obviously, what’s important to me isn’t necessarily important to everyone else. (note: I used an adblocker to save space for screencapping purposes. Both MAL and AP have advertising, but the advertising is a lot less intrusive on AP. I don’t mind the ads on AP.)

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The Intro Page

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Welcome to Anime Planet

I use MyAnimeList for two main reasons: to track what I watch and for information. Accordingly, there’s three things I think MAL does really well:

  • its list
  • the anime info pages
  • the user panel

On MAL, the user panel is particularly useful, because it’s the first page you see when you log in. On that page, three things stand out to me: the quick link to your list, the recent friend updates, and your last list updates.

  • The quick link to your list is useful for obvious reasons
  • The recent friend updates, for me, is useful because it’s one of the main ways I get reminded about new episodes of currently running shows. It’s also a great way to randomly come across an interesting show that someone I ‘m friends with is watching
  • And my list updates are useful, because seeing a recent history of what I’ve watched also helps me to remember other shows on my list that I’d been meaning to catch up on
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Good to see I've been on a dropping spree

When you first log into Anime Planet, you’ll see a link to your list on the top right. However the list lacks any sort of sequential display of the last episodes and shows you or anyone else has watched. At least, I can’t seem to find it anywhere on the site.

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AP also has a panel for user activity, but it’s for all users, not your friends.

There’s a few points I want to make here:

  • I’d rather see the friends panel there, because I’m ambivalent to what other users on the site are doing. On MAL, my eyes tend to gloss over the latest reviews and recommendations sections, because I feel like it’s too broad, and not relevant to me. Whereas I have pretty good confidence that the people I’m friends with have either better tastes or tastes closer to mine
  • From a design standpoint, MAL’s friend update list is a lot easier to scan than AP’s user activity panel. Better spacing and recognizable images outweighs text links and icons. There’s almost too much info on the AP activity panel, it’s hard to focus on any one thing
  • The other limitation with AP’s user panel is that you don’t see sequential episodic updates in the user activity panel. Ostensibly because the site may not keep track of this. So all you see are changes in show status (watching, dropped, hold, etc.), reviews, ratings and recos. This might be one reason why the user activity panel is on the home page vs. the friends activity panel, simply because updates tend to come fewer and further between
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Good scannability here

Ideally, the activity panel would be laid out similar to how AP handles the recommendations panel, which makes use of a lot more white space and better layout.  Although…

  • I’d love for the read reason button to ajax open the text vs. relying on rollovers
  • The add vote is also a little confusing, because I thought I was voting up a recommendation, but instead it took me to the add a recommendation page

The browse by tags doesn’t seem to work from the intro page (it takes me to an empty page), but works well from the anime pages. It’s a pretty cool feature actually.

The List

Ah the most important part.

First things first, the Import List

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Import quality has improved over the past year

This is MAL’s bread and butter, and AP knows this, including a handy “import anime list” that allows you to take your export file from MAL and import it into AP. It worked well for the most part, the ones it missed were all the Kara no Kyoukai movies (it’s bundled series listing), any picture dramas, Shakugan no Shana 3 (probably because it hasn’t been announced yet), and Shina Dark (no excuse here).

It imports your watch status, progress, and your ratings.

What it doesn’t import are:

  • Rewatch stats
  • Start and end dates
  • Any sort of tags (not that MAL was doing anything with them any way)

I don’t mind the missing rewatch stats so much (and apparently it may or may not ever be added according to the Frequently denied requests thread), but missing the start and end dates is a crucial missing piece for me. It’s something I look back on, and will use often to sort my list. One nice feature, simply for data portability’s sake (and fairness to MAL and aniDB), would be an export feature of its own. Apparently it’s in the works, but very low priority, so I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon.

Sticky filters, or the lack thereof

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Lack of sticky filters means extra steps on each list visit

One point of annoyance is that unlike MAL, where you can set your default view, there doesn’t seem to be a similar setting in AP. So anytime you click your list, you have to then click the appropriate filter and then apply it. It’s not hard, but it adds an extra step or two. A sticky filter is a necessity, especially for those with larger lists.

AP’s filtering works much better than MAL’s advanced search, but one thing I’d probably change is the visible filter buttons. Currently, you see:

  • watching
  • want to watch
  • my fav genres

The problem with “my fav genres” is that the genre category is so broad, it’s not the most helpful of filters. And while my fav genres might be useful when you’re searching or browsing for animes in general, if you’re in your list view, you’re probably going to want more filters that are more contextual to your experience. Which, for example, would probably be:

  • watching
  • want to watch
  • dropped
  • stalled

Updating your list and episode specific forums

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No episodic posts on AP

Updating your list is as simple as clicking a drop down and clicking an episode ahead. Unlike recent MAL, it works, it’s functional, it’s fast. But one big missing feature in AP is anime episode specific forums. I think this is a killer feature on MAL, that you can update your list and then be asked to read the Mushishi, episode 14 forums. It encourages discussion, and even though I don’t post much, I almost always read the forums to see what other people thought of the episode. AP has show specific forum posts, but that tends to scatter the episodic discussions and breaks the flow. It also makes it harder to post about random show topics like “why is Mashiro such a bitch?” or “is there ever going to be a third season of Natsume Yuujinchou?”

AP’s also missing the sequential cataloguing of episodes and shows you watched, but I’ve already mentioned that.

Anime and Character Information Pages

AP requires all ”original” content, and they have admins that do their job enforcing this (unlike MAL which is like the wild, wild west). On the plus side, it means you’re not going to click around reading character profiles and accidentally spoil yourself by reading something like Yagami Light is a mind-controlling alien, because some jackass copy pasta’d the whole wikipedia entry and a lazy admin let it through. On the down side, you’re going to find a lot of pages and profiles with little-to-no info.

Typical shows

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Basic information page

All the basic info is available, show name, synopsis, episode length, studio.

  • On the plus side, I like that they include the season (Fall 2010) with the anime
  • On the downside, I prefer how MAL includes exact dates of airing and ending. I also like that MAL will include the episode length for the series. It’s good info to know. AP tends to only list up to the number that’s aired
  • Also on the downside, I like how MAL displays the numerical rating. You can see the numerical rating on AP by scrolling over the stars, but at first glance 4.0 will like 4.45, even though there’s a big difference in the scores. I’m ok with the stars from an individual rating standpoint, but when aggregating, I would much rather see the numerical rating.

New and upcoming shows

One oddity of the editorial control on AP is that they only post synopses or screenshots after 3-4 episodes have aired. This is where I think the editorial control might need to be relaxed somewhat, because if you were just passing through you’d assume that the page is undone. It’s a bit discouraging to look at it at first glance, because it gives me the impression that people aren’t submitting much info, which may or may not be the case. It also makes AP useless if you’re trying to get info on a show that’s just aired, or is planned to air in a future season.

A synopsis is a synopsis. I can understand asking users to do better than some of the nonsense that’s on MAL, but the synopsis doesn’t change whether the anime is just getting started or has been running for 200 episodes. Similarly, I’d consider at least displaying a placeholder image for the show, and then replacing it with more original images once the show’s been ongoing for a few episodes.

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Looking lonely here

Characters and Staff Panel

There’s an unnecessary horizontal scroll bar that seems to show up in the subpanels when using Chrome 9.

But more importantly, I think the characters panel either needs to be broken out of there and placed in a separate location, or needs to link to a separate characters page that allows you to see all the characters without scrolling as much. It’s harder to navigate and find what you need when you can only see 3 characters at a time.

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Too much scrolling required

The information in the staff panel is light right now, but it’s a new feature, so I assume it’ll fill out eventually. What would be really nice would be if AP partnered with AniDB to bring that data over. These anime sites really should collaborate more, when possible.

Reviews, Lists and Blogs Panel

There’s nothing wrong with how AP presents reviews, but I think MAL highlights the reviews a little better by giving you snippets to read. Again, it’s the idea of having scannable info vs. a pile of links. I also think AP should include forum post links in this section, since it’s called “reviews & discussion”.

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Lists are a fun little feature, I don’t know if I’d ever use it, as it seems more noise than anything useful, but it’s fun and quirky.

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The blogs section is actually very cool, and integrates it into the site and community way better than how MAL uses “blogs”. Doesn’t look like anyone’s blogging Bakuman on an episodic basis, but maybe it’s because everyone was smart enough to cut bait while they could.

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What’s missing compared to MAL?

Basically everything below. Links to news, links to forum discussions, recently watched, related clubs. Most of these are understandable omissions. AP is not a news site, so I understand why there’s no news links. AP also doesn’t have clubs, so that’s an obvious omission as well. The recently watched feature in MAL is relatively useless. And forum discussions, as I’ve mentioned, probably should be linked to within the reviews & discussion section.

Would love to see OP/ED info included on AP.

But one crucial missing piece is the fansub groups info. I’ve found this info to be incredibly useful, especially if I’m going back to an older series and want to see who’s subbed it and subbed it well. No other site does this as well as MAL.

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OP/ED info would be nice. Fansub info: crucial.

Character Pages

Notice how Haruhi’s description is spoiler-free. +1 for editorial control.

I really like the tags functionality. It enables this similar characters feature which is sort of hit or miss, but fun to play with. I also really like the love/hate option for characters and peoples. Top lists are great on MAL, but hate lists are plenty fun too. I have Suzaku, Misa, Miho, Light and Taiga on my hate list, because they all are terrible characters (except Light. I just hate him because he was a magnificent bastard).

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Spoiler-free character pages

User Profiles

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User profile page

AP’s user profile page is pretty solid. You have the standard avatar, about me, stats and favorites. The only thing I’d want is a URL field. But this is purely a blogger-specific request.

I like the Anime Ratings distribution chart. I had a pretty good idea that my rating system was a big bell curve, but it’s pretty cool to be able to see that on your page as well as other users’ pages.

The one knock on the love/hate lists is that I don’t know if there’s a way to see a friend’s list past the top 5. You can add as many as you want, which is nice, because I stopped using MAL’s favorite lists since it caps at 5 shows and 10 characters/peoples. But I couldn’t find any way to view a friend’s full list of top characters (except by taking my full URL and replacing my user name with anothers. Here’s chii’s favorite characters btw). It’d be nice to have a few links there to the user’s full list of love/hate.

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There’s a couple cool things unique to AP. One is the badges. Badges reward you for doing various things on the site. It’s nothing absolutely essential, but it’s a fun feature. The second is your twitter feed. I don’t know that people will discover each other on Twitter much from it, because it’s so low on the page, but it’s the kind of thing you’ll never see on MAL.

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Similar to the user panel, the friend panel isn't very scannable

To save some vertical space, I’d consider moving the lists and twitter to the right sidebar to bring up the friends panel. Then again, you could always replace the user activity panel on the home page with the friends panel, if you’re logged in and have friends. Anyway, here’s the friends panel, I can see that Caraniel’s watching Freezing. I know there’s only one episode out so far, but it’d be nice to know if she which episode she watched. Plus, I won’t see Freezing on her list again until she either rates it, finishes it, stalls it or drops it.

The comments section works well. I never really use this functionality much, but the one thing that annoys me is the CAPTCHA forms. I’m not sure if this is necessary since you have to be logged in to write a comment. I’ve never seen wall spam to be a problem on MAL, so I can’t imagine the bots would tamper AP any moreso. One thing to note is that the comments field didn’t work on my Android browser. It was the only thing on the site that I noticed didn’t play well with a mobile browser.

Forums

AP’s forum software seems to be separate from it’s main site compared to MAL which is tightly integrated with its forum software. So, I think you have to register a forum account separately from your AP account. I could be wrong. I just logged in using my AP username/password, but I might’ve created a forum account ages ago.

The forum uses vbulletin software, so it’s actually more powerful than MAL’s forum software, it’s just not as tightly integrated, so you don’t see too much crossover. My biggest qualms have to do with the lack of show-specific forums and episode-specific posts, more of a content issue than anything.

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Clubs

I always thought they were a waste of time, but I know Clubs are beloved on MAL. There are none on AP, however. So if you can’t live without Clubs, you’ll have to stay with MAL (unless they end up cutting it all anyway).

Anime Page

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Clearly much better than MAL's version

The Anime page is well organized. Much better than MAL’s anime page. And unlike MAL’s completely useless tags, AP’s tags work well here and are quite useful. The one thing I’d love to see is a Top Anime button. You can access this by clicking on browse anime by title and then sorting by score… but again, it’s the idea of minimizing the number of clicks for important info.

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Multiple show names is messy

Advanced search works well and you’ll be surprised at the number of tags you can filter/search by. I searched for mermaids, 4+ rating, and I got Seto no Hanayome. Damn straight. Unfortunately, you’ll see this often, but all the name variations show up in this list view. If you click on either show it takes you to the same page, but this should be cleaned up.

Characters and People Pages

They’re set up similarly, where you can search/browse by tags, and see favorite characters today, this week and all time, as well as their hated counterparts. It’s nicely done, and better than anything comparative on MAL. The only knock as I mentioned is that many of the characters pages don’t have much info filled out (one of the downsides of relying on original content). One thing I like about the individual characters page is that you can leave comments about a specific character on their info page. It’s something I wished always existed on MAL.

The ratings

The ratings are 5 stars with half star intervals. It’s basically the same as MAL. But between a 10 point scale, or a 5 point scale (with intervals in between), I’d prefer the 10. And if I had my way, I’d rather have a 10 point scale with 1/2 point fractions, so I can rate something an 8.5. But either works fine for me. The only thing as I’ve already mentioned, is I’d want to see the actual numbers pretty much anywhere where the ratings are averaged.

Final decision

I’ve always liked Anime Planet’s design, I just found myself never having a good reason to use it, because:

  • MAL’s listkeeping functionality was better
  • MAL and AniDB were better sources of information
  • MAL’s individual episode forums were more informative and engaging

To be perfectly honest, if MyAnimeList wasn’t dying a painful death, I would’ve been fine with its stagnant functionality and dated design (the site is unusable on a mobile browser because of all the layers and rollovers it uses)… as long as it did its bread and butter well. Unfortunately, now it’s screwing that up too.

Although I had quite a few criticisms of Anime Planet, there’s a lot to like about it. The more I used AP, the more I liked it. It’s fresh, it’s fast, it has a lot of cool features, the founder does a great job connecting with her users and trying to address questions and concerns (the bloggers have been keeping her busy lately, lol), and the site seems to be updated often with new features (whereas MAL seems to be updated sporadically, not with new features, but fixes to try to get the site working.).

If the listkeeper functions were at parity, it’d be a no-brainer for me to switch over to AP as my main listkeeping site and use MAL similar to how I use ANN and AniDB – mostly for informational searches. BUT the missing list features and the general lack of content compared to MAL means that I’ll probably be using both sides concurrently for the near future.

If you’re not a stickler for list details, or you’re just beginning your list, then I think you’d be more than thrilled with AP. It’s a great site. But if the details matter, or if you have a very large list that you’re particular about, you’ll probably end up in the same boat as me. Somewhere between here nor there.

Addendum

I’m a blind idiot about the sticky filter/my watching list link. Thanks to fangzhao for pointing it out. But there’s a big honking “my watching list” button right under your profile image, when you click to go to your list. I still think the filter option should be a persistent preference, but the button saves a click.