Flying Colors Foundation and the Anime Census: The Voices We Can’t Hear

Let your voice be heard.

Your voice matters. You want to give suggestions and solutions to the right people. You want to be heard.

After all, who doesn’t want to help others? Who doesn’t want to improve something they love be even better? And who doesn’t want to help an industry connect with its fans?

That’s the promise The Anime Man and others are delivering in this new survey by Flying Colors Foundation. Flying Colors Foundation may not be an organization you will recognize, but The Anime Man is an enthusiastic supporter. In his video titled “Do You Want To Change The Future of Anime? Watch This Video”, he describes it as “a nonprofit organization where we are aiming to bridge the gap between you guys watching the video — the international audience — and the Japanese anime industry.”

Referencing their previous collaboration with him on a video about “The OFFICIAL Top 100 Anime of All Time (According to the Internet)”, The Anime Man calls the effort a “first step” to gauge if there was any interest in polling from and by his fans. He sees the results as wildly successful:

“There was a massive approval and a huge amount of information that you guys shared and gathered and helped and collected to make a great top 100 poll.”

The Anime Man firmly believes that, even though this poll is the largest one he and his team have ever conducted, they could go bigger. It’s going to be a census. Obviously, it’s not going to be from a government but it will be “from us”.

It is just a “little questionnaire that will hopefully help us know about what kind of an anime fan you are.” You can do the survey linked in the video description and help the cause.

Or you can look below and read the pinned comment by The Anime Man:

A similarly-worded tweet came about at the same time. It’s a “non-profit” organization. There is nothing fishy about this.

Your voice matters.

Flying Colors Foundation, while heralded by some of the more popular AniTubers as a legitimate nonprofit organization, does not have the best of reputations with many people. For one, this is a relatively new organization that seems to have come out of the blue. Its unorthodox approach to surveying people has been described as “not following many best practices” by Miles of Crunchyroll; there is also that they aren’t working with Crunchyroll, Funimation, or any publisher — they’re on their own, focusing mostly on the small but thriving community of AniTube.

Canipa, an Anituber, calls it “an initiative that offers YTers for-profit incentives in exchange for public support” based on his experience with the organization. When Flying Colors Foundation approached Canipa, he thought of them having no idea what they’re doing; he is however dead sure that they’re interested in making YouTubers merchandise in exchange for helping with their program. This botched meeting gave him the title of “industry adviser”. He also mentions that the nonprofit organization is quite close to the for-profit organization, Otaku Pin Club.

Source: a Powerpoint file linked in this tweet

Jakiba, an Anitwitter user, found out that one of the staff members in Flying Colors Foundation worked in Lootcrate as a Consumer Insight Strategist, one of its descriptions being “develop[ing] a franchise strength evaluation model that tracks audience size, engagement, franchise affinity, ‘fandom’ intensity, and fluctuations in popularity for various anime and gaming franchises to develop a merchandise curation process which led to an increase of sold-out crates”.

Richardson H. Kills from MyAnimeList News adds that “FCF [Flying Colors Foundation] is registered in the state of California by an individual with the same name as the registrant of OPC [Otaku Pin Club]. Other listed officers of OPC are also known to be people affiliated with FCF.”

In response, Flying Colors Foundation’s Twitter account says it has “divest[ed] ourselves from OPC” and refused to take any money from it. It thus claims that it has gone “fully FCF”. More of this information could be found in a thread of tweets they call a “disclosure”:

1. FCF is a non-profit, and therefore, does not keep, nor benefit from, any profits. Our team DOES NOT GET PAID for their services and involvement. Everything we do is purely voluntary.

2. Influencers DO NOT GET PAID. Since we do not keep profits, nobody can take any. Influencers are not offered any financial incentives for their collaboration. Their support and involvement with FCF is purely voluntary.

3. The FCF team has a member that FORMERLY worked for LootCrate. He quit his job last month to do full-time FCF. We do not have any financial relationships or ties to any for-profit companies.

4. All members of the FCF staff have voluntarily given up ownership or interest in any projects that pose a conflict of interest with FCF. Our team is 100% FCF and is divested of any involvement with any other business.

5. The data collected anonymously through your participation of the Anime Census will be used to create a report that will be freely available to the public.

6. Any contact information you provide us will be kept private and not be sold or shared without your consent.

Immediately, skeptics like socialanigirl — another Anitwitter user — called the company out for “harvesting data for marketing purposes, nothing like ‘help the industry’.” She goes on to question every little point the Flying Color Foundation Twitter made including the idea of the Lootcrate employee leaving their job behind to work in a volunteer organization; she finds it “a bit hard to swallow”. (Note: After this post was published, socialanigirl later wrote in detail about her own investigation of the company.)

Source: From the Powerpoint presentation

I am skeptical myself. Everything about this whole business reeks of predatory behavior, if not pure cluelessness at what they are doing. Pushing for Anitubers and not proper channels like Crunchyroll mean they’re going for a certain kind of audience. There is no explicit statement about how a selective census could help the anime industry in particular. Good faith is the only justification for this survey and that’s never enough for people like me.

I want to know what this survey is all about.

The so-called Anime Census may look innocuous at first. Indeed, it greets us first with a nice welcome message:

Welcome to the 2018 Anime Census.

Today, you will have the chance to talk about your favorite anime, why you like them, and how you enjoy them.

We believe that, with your help, we can send genuine feedback to the people who create and produce our favorite anime. You have the power to encourage studios, inspire sustainable business practices, and pitch ideas that may become the future of anime.

Your voice makes a difference. We’re thankful that you’re here and we’re excited to get started!

Estimated Time to Completion : 10 – 15 minutes


All responses will be collected anonymously. All personal contact information will be kept private and will not be shared or sold without your consent.

Completing the survey is another experience altogether. While the beginning questions ask you “about how old were you when you first watched anime?” and the social media outlets you use, the questions will become more serious and personal.

“Who do you watch anime with?” is a common question found in these kinds of surveys. So does asking about the merchandise you have bought. These standard questions — how interested you are in going to Japan — are no different from many surveys with lesser goals to achieve. It is a bit difficult to imagine how this kind of survey is going to be the game-changer that will save the anime industry.

Some of the questions are a bit ridiculous. You are asked to gauge how big of an anime fan you are in a 0-10 scaling:

The methodology is flawed since people respond to numbers very differently and there’s no way to get any kind of statistic that is meaningful in one way or another. I don’t get what’s the point of this question.

The same scaling is again used to ask how one feels about the anime industry — what the census is supposed to be about. You are allowed to write out your “appreciation or compliments” in an open-ended answer box; the same applies for “what do you think needs to change in the anime industry?” According to Flying Colors Foundation’s Twitter account, it has gotten more than 10,000 responses and I can’t help but be incredulous if they’re going to read all 10,000++ open-ended answers.

But when we get to the 8th question, we get into questions that may be too private and personal to share:

It asks questions about our mental health. Has anime made you feel better about your life? Or did it worsen? Rate it on a 0-10 number scale.

The subquestions get a bit weirder once we scroll down:

The census is asking you about your mental health and wants that information.

This is a lot of private, sensitive information that people have to give away. Giving away one’s mental health — even if one perceives themselves as having no disorders of the sort — to an unknown party is dangerous. The tone of the question makes it sound like they are caring and gives the sense of community this survey and the non-profit organization do not have.

Once you have selected the options, the survey dares to ask one more followup question:

This kind of questioning may lead people to believe that anime — and any form of media — could be a tool for depression and mental health in general. Mental illness is not as easy as putting a numerical score and no piece of media can be a substitute for doctors and therapists. But thanks to this survey, people might see a nonexistent and very dangerous correlation between media and counselors.

I won’t link to any tweets that actually show these people are following that “advice” for privacy’s sake, but I find it worrying there are many gullible people out there who think this question is a wonderful idea. It is easily the most concerning aspect of this survey.

I find it dubious too over the need to acquire this kind of sensitive information. I am genuinely curious as to how does divulging my mental health could help the anime industry improve. If Flying Colors Foundation is indeed sincere in contributing to the anime industry, then is there some insidious plan hatched by the anime industry to exploit people’s mental health so they make better anime that cater to our taste? Because that’s the only logical interpretation I can have with this. We are sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the industry.

What kind of information are we actually giving to Flying Colors Foundation that hasn’t earned our trust yet? What is it going to do with this information? These questions have not been answered and I doubt we will hear about it for quite a while too.

It is easy to go through the survey without thinking about the consequences. Recent stories like Channel 4 News’s investigation into Cambridge Analytica show us how easy it is to find information and manipulate people to feel a certain way toward a subject. But this is an old story that people refuse to listen.

Source: From the Powerpoint presentation

Edward L. Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, is considered the father of public relations in the 1920s and 30s and he sees propaganda as a useful way to disseminate information into something understandable. He criticizes many businesses and politicians for judging propaganda too harshly while misusing them on their own. Bernays sees the tool as a kind of public service in democracy as detailed in Propaganda:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

The way Bernays sees it, we masses don’t know much about anything. We need leaders or someone to shape our thoughts for us, so we can decide what we want to do.

Source: From the Powerpoint presentation

However, we don’t want to see these “leaders”; we want to think we are independent. That is the genius of marketing of aesthetic taste:

“Who are the men, who, without our realizing it, give us our ideas, tell us whom to admire and whom to despise, what to believe about the ownership of public utilities .. about immigration who tell us how our houses should be designed, what furniture we should put into them, what menus we should serve at our table, what kind of shirts we must wear, what sports we should indulge in, what plays we should see, what charities we should support, what pictures we should admire, what slang we should affect, what jokes we should laugh at?”

A hidden expert dictates what we do.

No one wants to be told they are gullible or being scammed. We see ourselves as intelligent beings, conscious of every decision we can make. None of our actions are inherently wrong and if mistakes happen, it’s because of chance and a bit of carelessness. We’re rational and we’ll never make big mistakes. If someone tells us off, we’re going to tell them back they’re wrong.

Source: From the Powerpoint presentation

That’s how companies manipulate us.

The survey pretty much ends with an e-mail signature:

Just below this is where the honest-to-god statements about not sharing your email with third-party vendors are contradicted:

It is just going to be shared with “our partners”. You are going to be part of a mailing list and God knows how much information is divulged by just your email. Your voice, along with many others, will be shared with companies interested in data and everyone can hear the myriad muffled voices in the world.

The industry will change but not in the way you envision it. They won’t change the way they make anime since surveys rarely affect productions: that’s to do with licensing, distributing, and the low animator wages that are plaguing the industry. The industry will change to target you not as an audience or customer but as information.

Your voice matters because you are influenced by them. Your voice is their voice.

(Update: March 24) When the original post was finished and later updated at March 22 and 23, the skepticism over Flying Colors Foundation flourished. socialanigirl’s Medium post appeared on r/Anime and many people were outraged and confused by what they saw as a deceitful activity.

Criticisms against this skepticism have surfaced as well. socialanigirl’s posts have been described as “bad journalism” and this post by me has been criticized for implying there is predatory behavior when there is no “proof” yet. Personally speaking, I don’t mind the bad publicity because it then makes people want to talk about Flying Colors Foundation and realize there’s problems with it.

But this wouldn’t be an update if there are actually news on this. Gigguk — one of the main influencers — has today written a Twitlonger amusingly described as “The Truth Behind Flying Colors Foundation”.

He plays damage control for FCF (he is even retweeted by FCF’s official Twitter account) and plays down the fears and skepticism by trying to explain how he got into contact with the company. Admittedly, Gigguk claims he “wanted to keep out of this whole FCF ‘drama’ on Anitwitter”, but he feels the need to correct some “misinformation”. That’s fine as long as it wasn’t Gigguk because he is dating the PR person handling the Twitter for Flying Colors Foundation. Everyone knew he was going to get in. There’s easily a conflict of interest and it is coy for him to suggest he wanted to play the neutral party for a bit. He was not neutral. As longtime critic of FCF buildknuckle says, “I doubt he’d want to stay away from this one.”

Throughout the post, he is vague and somewhat misleads his audience on how FCF is a legitimate nonprofit organization that knows what it is doing. No concrete evidence is given by Gigguk, only good faith. At the same time, he suggests that any article written by the skeptics is “either misinformation or straight up lies with no actual evidence” while disregarding that there are people out there who have dug important scoops for the news beat and forced the organization to have a say on it.

A very fascinating, almost candid paragraph appears near the bottom of this post:

Let’s be real here, we know no one is gonna change the industry overnight, but we can at least try to make a small difference. I’d say this Census would be step 0 if anything, there’s not much which can be publicly released yet because honestly, nothing is written down in paper. The Census was meant to be the project to see if any partners would officially want to work with FCF beyond just the conversations that had happened, but hey, it could still fall flat on everyone’s faces.

If this paragraph is true (and it is being endorsed by FCF’s PR), then the Census isn’t just a “step 0”; it’s a literal marketing survey to whatever partners FCF has in mind, so they can figure out what FCF and the partners can do in the future.

Meaning they don’t know what they’re doing right now. They are just collecting data. Then, they’ll talk about what to do later. They have no plans on how to change the anime industry or make the community better. They just want the data.

So FCF is either the most grossly negligent organization with no clue what they are doing or they are harvesting data for their “partners” and they know exactly what they’re doing. This is pretty much an official damage report since it’s retweeted by Flying Colors Foundation’s Twitter.

Without a doubt, I believe FCF has mischaracterized its goals as an “anime census” that “empowers the voice of the community” to change the anime industry and this has been provided by us with Gigguk’s “truth”.

Maybe it is paranoid of me to suggest there is a conspiracy going on behind closed doors. But the other answer — that FCF is the stupidest nonprofit organization out there — is the more insidious, horrifying answer. As Kitsu’s founder may be interested in working with FCF despite the allegations, we may be in deeper waters than we previously thought.

Stupidity drives us down more than even the evilest of acts.

(Update: March 27) This story will never end till actual investigation has shown what’s really going on in the company. That might not be happening soon.

Flying Colors Foundation has issued an official response to socialanigirl’s post both on their website as a PDF and socialanigirl’s Medium site herself. It is filled with pointless damage control remarks and again never actually responds to the conflicts of interests and questions surrounding mental health. No mentions of business partners are in the articles, but it is praiseworthy they reached out socialanigirl for an official response. That I am willing to give praise for since companies should do that and not, say, liking Twitter posts that criticize the investigations.

Laura Orsini in Forbes wrote an article following the allegations titled “Why Did The Flying Colors Anime Census Lose Fans’ Trust?” where Daniel Suh, the founder, remarks:

“To be quite honest, although we did expect a lot of controversy over our organization, we were a bit surprised that anime fans would care this much about it. We’ve been flooded with both praise and critique from Youtube, Twitter, and email—with the most vocal critics being on Twitter.”

You are doing a survey called the “anime census” that claims to save anime after all. Anime fans will probably take a look into what’s behind the scenes after all… It is certainly something you should have expected when you are grabbing the biggest influencers on YouTube.

The biggest bombshell on the story so far comes from socialanigirl herself. In a massive post detailing the outline of the Flying Colors Foundation story uncovered so far, she reveals the “Concealment and Lies Behind the Flying Colors Foundation” with “further revelations” to boost. I recommend reading this in its entirety because it provides information that people had collaborated over during the week of controversy. This includes an interview recorded between FCF and members of AniTube and other communities and a surprising reveal that Digibro, an influencer, did indeed accept $100USD from the organization (though they’re not sure if this was before they announced this).

This is the kind of journalism I admire for this kind of story. Please read it and consider what Flying Colors Foundation is doing with your information.

(Update: March 29) This may be the weirdest story I am following all week. Flying Colors Foundation has announced on Twitter it will be closing its doors on March 31. It claims that it is closing because some of their staff members have been harassed and private information have been leaked, making it sound like the criticism has become harassment at some point. This is a great last-ditch effort of a diversion by the company where it blames the toxicity in the anime community for what has happened in the past week without addressing any kind of criticism. For the record, the survey is still going and Crunchyroll’s Miles has expressed discontent and argue that “the surveying techniques you used were inappropriate and will present a very distorted and biased view of the Western community that I fear far too many will still consider valid.”

There’s also growing skepticism from outsiders peering in. Non-Profit Quarterly has published an article titled “Who Authorizes? Startup Anime Nonprofit Misunderstands the Question” based on the information found in the Forbes article as well as socialanigirl’s first post on the organization. Anime News Network’s executive editor Zac Berthsy was drafting an article with other writers when word of FCF closing came to him.

But to top things off, socialanigirl today then published a new bombshell of an article titled “In light of Flying Color Foundation’s closure, Gigguk and The Anime Man’s ‘core team’ involvement with FCF”. A whistleblower inside the company has leaked information that shows the two influencers aren’t exactly influencers but representatives of the organization in Japan; FCF was also thinking of sharing their survey data with OPC (not a surprise) as well as Tokyo Otaku Mode and their Otaku Coin cryptocurrency project (The Anime Man was already a part of this madness, mind you).

I got a feeling this story won’t end yet. The Anime Man has hidden his video on the Anime Census while Gigguk is trying his best to distance himself from the organization. Very likely, the trust they have abused will come back to haunt them. That will be for another update for another time.

4 thoughts on “Flying Colors Foundation and the Anime Census: The Voices We Can’t Hear

  1. joe April 1, 2018 / 6:44 pm

    looking for theanimeman video and the entire quiz. help would be greatly appreciated.

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