Rapid Insights: Shōgun, A Fresh Twist on Throne Games

Currently releasing on FX is a hot new retelling of a bestselling 1975 novel, and the critically-acclaimed limited series is already snapping up viewers. Set in 1600s feudal Japan, the historical saga follows three protagonists–a powerful warlord fighting dangerous political rivals, an English sailor shipwrecked on unfamiliar shores, and a highborn lady with dishonorable family ties–and highlights the beauty and violence of its turning-point era.

Here’s what you need to know about Shōgun:

Vault uses index scores to describe the impact a given story/theme/element will have on specific KPIs: 
≤79 Disappointing  80-89 Challenging  90-109 Average  110-119 Promising  120+ Outstanding

Who’s been watching this new drama series? 
We’re seeing an audience that leans male (53%) and is mostly older (68% aged 35+). Gender-wise, this profile is extremely similar to other historical epics like VikingsMarco PoloKnightfallThe TudorsThe Last Kingdom, and even Game of Thrones but age-wise, Shōgun runs younger than its linear-based brethren.

How’s its social buzz looking?
Strong. While its early trailer drop netted only a slight bump in online chatter (peaking at 117 back in November), a :30 spot during February’s Super Bowl suddenly catapulted the show into the national conversation (maxing out our meter at 160). Its buzz spiked again soon after (again at 160) with the Feb 27 release of the first two episodes, and it’s been riding high ever since.

What’s drawing viewers to this complex saga?
The machinations and power plays. Critics are comparing Shōgun to Game of Thrones thanks to its complicated plotting, Political Manipulations (111), and backstabbing between rivals to secure the ultimate title–in this case shōgun, the top military commander and de facto ruler of pre-Edo Japan. The Ambition & Drive (139) on display and overall Power Struggle (139) between warring factions are the show’s top viewership drivers, important for ratings, bingeability, and social buzz. The gruesome, Stylized Action & Violence (136) and intense, period-accurate Battle Action (127) that result are likewise big audience draws–and similarly increase the Game of Thrones parallels.

Are the characters themselves important?
Yes. Beyond the plotting and fighting, audiences are looking to personal relationships within the story to provide both humanity and intrigue. Shōgun follows the Unlikely Friendship (131) (and Interracial Partnership, 133) between samurai Lord Yoshii Toranaga and stranded English navigator John Blackthorne as they join forces–albeit turbulently–to navigate and survive the era’s complex political situation. At the same time, there’s Romantic Conflict (127) between Blackthorne and the unhappily married Lady Mariko (a Strong Female Protagonist (123) in her own right), which adds a sense of melancholic passion. These three main characters are also loosely based on real-life historical figures, generating an extra layer of viewer interest.

Is this show likely to succeed in Japan?
Yes and no. While the show boasts a number of compelling viewership drivers in America, the only one that lands as at least “promising” for Japan is the Stylized Action & Violence (118 in that market) of the historical samurai fights and feudal battles. The other elements that make Shōgun stand out for US viewers–especially its deep dive into Japanese Culture (131 for the US, a big ratings booster)–are, presumably, more common in the country’s own local programming and thus not terribly distinguishing (Japanese Culture rates a non-influential 88 for Japan). On the other hand, the show boasts an acclaimed Japanese cast and historical period accuracy, which may nevertheless help it find solid footing.


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*Publicly released trailers for series are evaluated using Vault’s algorithms – utilizing our proprietary 120K+ story element database alongside ratings performance and other datasets – to identify unique combinations of stories, themes, characters, and genre elements that will drive success.

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