Understanding Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches

While the traditional American comic book almost exclusively conveys the stories of costumed vigilantes, it’s Japanese cousin, manga, has a much wider range of topics. Sure, there are numerous examples of muscular males fighting each other; but there’s also a gamut of stories that focus on sports, romance, high school life and a range of hobbies. Sometimes these stories are serious and set in a world identical to our own and other times they are in fantastical realms that have to be seen to be believed. The world of “Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches” hits several different settings. On the one hand, it’s just about a high school outcast trying to enjoy his high school years while attending a school plagued with secret “witches” who use their powers as they see fit from the shadows in the otherwise mundane world in which they live in. The magic these witches weave is invisible to the average student, so most of the school’s population is unaware of the body-switching, mind-reading, future-telling and memory-erasing that is going on around them.

The series, created by Miki Yoshikawa and published in Weekly Shonen Magazine, ran for 244 chapters (each of which was approximately 20 pages long) between February 2012 and February 2017. It was adapted into an 8-episode live action series and a 12-episode anime series. By any measure, it was a successful, if not a blockbuster series and one that Yoshikawa was able to finish on her own terms, where the major characters were able to resolve all their problems and leave the magical high school as better versions of their younger selves.

I’m not going to give you a chapter-by-chapter rundown of what happened in each issue. Instead, I’m going to show you, via data visualization, who the most dominant characters are by using some math and some diagrams.

First, I want you to take a look at the following visualization, which shows you how often the characters interact with each other. One geeky thing to note is that in order to appear on this chart, a character had to appear on a minimum of 50 pages with another character.

As you can guess from the title “Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches”, the central character is Ryu Yamada. It’s no surprise that he’d be in the center of the chart and that he has the largest circle, thus signifying the most connections. If you look a little more carefully, you’ll see that he, and he alone, is connected to every other character in the diagram.

Circulating around him, from approximately the 5:00 Position (Maria Sarushima) to the 12:00 Position (Sora Himekawa), you have a series of characters, the majority of which are female, who have only a connection to Yamada. The sole exception to this “only Yamada” connection is with Nancy (real name: Haruko Nijino) who has a connection to her boyfriend Sid (who also is connected with Yamada).

So, why would these characters on the outskirts appear like this? The answer is that each character represents a witch that Yamada tries to charm/help into using their powers for good. Yamada, as you can tell, usually undergoes these missions alone (since if he had help, you’d expect to see these characters with another connection).

The rest of the action is in the top-right quadrant of the diagram, where you can probably judge that the second most important/connected character is a boy called Toranosuke Miyamura and that boys name Ushio Igarashi, Shinchi Tamaki and Kentaro Tsubaki; and girls named Miyabi Itou, Urara Shiraishi and Nene Odagiri are all prominently featured and interconnected.

Now, you may not know their exact relationships, but given that this group of characters (along with others along the outskirts of this group) are all in some sort of social circle, and if you look a little closer, you might notice that there’s actually two social circles: one comprising of Yamada, Tsubaki, Itou, Shirashi and Miyamura (with Igarashi and Odagiri connected to most of them) and a second with Yamada, Miyamura, Odagiri, Tamaki, Kurosaki and Arisugawa. The first social circle, is, in fact, the Supernatural Studies Club which comprises of Yamada and his closest friends from the first story arc; while the second represents the Student Council to which Yamada is a part of during the second story arc.

Another way of understanding Yamada-kun is by getting some key metrics on when and how often a character appeared in the series. Take a look at the following table:

Now, the first few columns (Rank, Name and First Chapter) should be fairly self-explanatory. The fourth column “Total Chapter Presense” sounds complicated, but it’s just a fancy way of saying whether or not a character appeared in 5 or more pages of the Chapter (which is approximately 20%-25% of the pages in a chapter). This is a way of differentiating between characters who are in the background for a chapter from those who have a real effect on that chapter’s story. The following column, Chapter Presence Pct, indicates the percentage of chapters that the character had a strong effect on. Finally, the Total Pages and Page Pct values show how often a character appeared and the overall percentage of Characters that the character appears on.

So, what you see is 42 distinct characters, starting with the titular character, Ryu Yamada, who appears in nearly 85% of all the pages down to Rin Sasaki, who appeared to be a major antagonist in the first chapter of the series, only to never appear in another page. If you look a bit closer at the middle of the chart, you’ll see that the “ordinary” character has a major presence in only 5-10 chapters and appear in approximately 100-120 pages, which runs in the 2% – 3% range; which means that they have about as much impact in the grand story line as Uncle Owen had in the original Star Wars. This is due to the fact, that the series consists of a number of mini-story arcs, where a new character (usually a witch) is identified and is seemingly threatening the social order of the school or is in trouble because of her powers. Once Yamada helps that character resolve their antipathy/issues; the character moves into the background and the series lurches forward to the next crisis.

This also explains why the series had to come to an end when it did. After identifying seven witches, erasing memories, re-identifying the witches, erasing the powers of the witches only to find a new set of witches, identifying the existence of warlocks and ultimately getting rid of magic in the school; the series had run its course and all that was left was to leap forward in time ten years and see what happened to all of our characters as they come together for a wedding between Yamada and Shiraishi. It was a satisfying end to a series that I enjoyed.