When Makoto Shinkai's Your Name temporarily surpassed Spirited Away's total at the worldwide box office in 2016 (a Chinese release restored Spirited Away's record in 2019), it appeared to signal a new era in anime movies. Studio Ghibli had gone dormant in 2014 following Hayao Miyazaki's retirement in 2013, and while it would be wrong to describe Shinkai as "the next Miyazaki," he certain proved new talent could reach Ghibli's previous blockbuster heights.
On December 30, 2020, Ghibli premiered its first new film in six years, Earwig and the Witch, on Japanese TV, and while it did well in the ratings, it got beat a few days later by an older Shinkai film.
TV ratings data for the week of December 28-January 3 estimates that 6.1% of the Japanese population watched Earwig and the Witch's premiere on NHK. That comes to around 7.7 million viewers; if these were admission numbers for a theatrical release, this would be Goro Miyazaki's top-grossing film, beating Tales from Earthsea and far surpassing From Up on Poppy Hill. Not a bad result at all, but those ratings suddenly feel a lot smaller after realizing TV Asahi's broadcast of Shinkai's 2019 film Weathering With You got an 8.8% rating (over 11 million viewers) on January 3.
This was the first time Weathering With You had aired on TV, so it's safe to assume a number of people who missed it in theaters were catching it for the first time. It's just as safe to assume many viewers had already seen the film before and loved it, given that Weathering With You made ¥14.9 billion at the Japanese box office and was the top-earning Japanese film of 2019. For those rewatching it, the January 3 broadcast did contain a bit of new content in the form of a new COVID-19-relevant epilogue.
Comparing the ratings for Earwig and the Witch vs. Weathering With You isn't an exact one-to-one comparison. They aired on different nights of the week on different stations facing different direct competition. Still, the fact that new world-premiere Ghibli film couldn't attract as many eyeballs as a Shinkai film many people had seen before definitely says something about the popularity of Shinkai and might say something about an area of weakness for Studio Ghibli... At least as far as Ghibli movies not directed by Hayao Miyazaki are concerned.
Just the week before, an NTV Christmas broadcast of Hayao Miyazaki's 1984 classic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind earned an amazing 10.2% rating (around 12.8 million viewers). Shinkai might be gaining popularity, and the 3D Earwig might have been a riskier project for Ghibli, but Hayao Miyazaki's films are still as popular as ever.
Directed by Goro Miyazaki, Earwig and the Witch's English dub features the voices of Richard E. Grant, Kacey Musgraves, Dan Steves and Taylor Paige. The film arrives in theaters Feb. 3 and on HBO Max Feb. 5. Weathering With You is streaming on HBO Max now.