Earlier this week, while perusing the anime torrent trackers, I noticed that fansub groub Dattebayo's release of episode fifteen of 07-Ghost was reporting over four thousand simultaneous downloads, along with close to seven thousand seeds. For reference, the average semi-popular new anime usually peaks at less than two thousand simultaneous downloads. 07-Ghost's numbers were by far greater than any other spring show, significantly higher than new episodes in the "phenomenon" that is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Based on my crudely assembled data, total transfers have been more comparable to but still slightly higher than for the season premiere of TNT's Leverage, one of cable's highest rated shows and presently the most torrented mainstream television program. The only show I could find that ranked higher was fansubbed Bleach. (New Naruto is freely available on almost every streaming site now, so it's no longer a factor in the torrent scene.)
Naturally, I was curious about this 07-Ghost, about which I had heard almost nothing. After watching the first two episodes, what did I get? The show's really not that great. In fact, it kinda sucks. Featuring a cast of generic prettyboy cliches of the very sort that Ouran High School Host Club effortlessly lampooned, student uniforms ripped straight out of Code Geass (along with the flowing robes that were already obnoxious in Trinity Blood), and a typically nonsensical fantasy plot pitting an emotionally damaged young hero against unabashedly evil shadow men, it doesn't even look or sound good. Complete garbage, there doesn't seem to be a speck of originality in it. Is it possible that it gets progressively better, to the point that episode fifteen might actually be the best anime of the year? I don't expect I'll hang around to find out, but, anyway, the answer is no.
These torrent numbers can be interesting to watch as a way to track the pulse of the anime fan community in the English-speaking world, where it remains so niche that, unless you're depraved enough to frequent the otaku forums, it's hard to get recommendations for what's worth viewing among shows that are still current. You could wait for series to get officially licensed to see which ones are more heavily promoted, but the domestic market has crashed, in my opinion, not because the fad has passed, but because the digital-age fans have grown savvier. These days, the anime fan is not the kid getting his parents to buy Dragonball or Naruto DVDs. Provided you know what you want, a motivated individual can and will find ways to keep up with the latest out of Japan, and even if you steer clear of forums, there's an excitement and a near-tangible energy that builds week-after-week as you wait in sync with other fans to see a show like Gundam 00 march toward its conclusion. By the time the series officially makes it to America, most of that energy will have dissipated.
In practice, I don't know that the download numbers are particularly meaningful, especially since many of the bigger shows these days get licensed immediately for online streaming through more official channels, thereby rendering fansubs somewhat obsolete. Still, that's a lot of downloads for a show of no redeeming qualities that I could see. I have to ask, who the hell are these people that are watching 07-Ghost?