One big point of contention with anime criticism is the selective nature of some critics. What I mean by this is that some critics will review different shows in vastly different ways, the primary sticking point being whether the show is a type of show that they like or dislike. There are numerous justifications given for this, but it all seems to come down to an abandonment of a simple set of principles and a desire to make criticism easy.
All Media Deserves Fair Criticism
I am a firm believer in the idea that all media deserves a fair shake and fair criticism, and that people who cannot give a given work of media a fair shake because of some prejudice about the work’s genre or distaste for the fans should not review said work of media. While a critic might give a well-thought-out, well-worded, insightful review of a work of media they find acceptable, too often, those same critics will give a superficial review of a work they don’t find acceptable. If criticism is to have any legitimacy to it, this practice needs to come to an end.
It’s okay to just not review something that you dislike enough to not have anything meaningful to say about. And no, “this has fanservice and I don’t like fanservice” or “this is a harem anime and I don’t like harem anime” or “this anime has cute girls with guns and I don’t like guns” aren’t meaningful things to say. Any idiot can tell when an anime has fanservice, is a harem show, or focuses on guns, and knows to avoid shows that have things they find completely objectionable. When a review amounts to little more than “this show has ‘Element X’ and I don’t like ‘Element X,’ so this show is bad,” it’s a useless review to everyone who doesn’t think exactly like the reviewer. What needs to be instilled as part of the culture of good criticism is the ability to get over oneself and give fair and proper criticism to a work.
Valuable content, put simply, is content that’s worth something. In terms of criticism, being worth something means having some insight, some perspective, and some meaning past just being the opinion of one person. Criticism should encourage the viewer to think about the media they consume and should encourage discussion around said media.
With that said, my next assertion for improving anime criticism is that humor, by itself, is without value. Ranting joke reviews are not valuable content. They don’t promote discussion, nor do they get the reader thinking. It’s really easy to gain a following by being funny on the internet. People looking for something to laugh about on the internet are a dime a dozen and they’re remarkably easy to please. Now, I’m not saying that humor doesn’t have its place. However, it’s one thing to be insightful, have perspective, have meaningful things to say, and be able to impart that insight, perspective, and meaning in a humorous manner. It’s another thing entirely to simply choose to be the funny guy because everyone else is taking their role as a critic seriously.
Cynicism and Negativity
This issue, in particular, is a societal one. Cynicism and negativity are part of a zeitgeist within our society currently. What I mean by that is that negativity and cynicism are often seen as more valuable than positivity and passion. Within society, the cynic is regarded as experienced, because anyone with a lot of experience on a topic is likely to be very familiar with the negative aspects of that topic. It goes without saying that anyone very experienced with anime has been burned more than once by something anime-related.
Anime critics aren’t stupid. They understand that, when most people see a cynic, they think “That guy’s experienced,” before they think “That guy’s bitter.” It’s very easy to play the “experienced cynic” dynamic in reverse by portraying oneself as cynical in order to appear experienced.
Coupled with that is the fact that people simply respond more to negativity than they do to positivity, that it’s easier to defend one’s negativity than it is to defend one’s positivity, and that it’s simply easier to articulate negative points than it is to articulate positive points. Being negative and cynical is an easy way to gain a following, especially on the internet. Supporters and detractors will lend their opinion a great deal more often to negativity than to positivity and, while it’s pretty easy to cut someone down for liking something (The anime community proves this time and time again), it’s pretty difficult to do the same for someone not liking something. In addition to all that, like humor, people looking for cynicism and negativity on the internet are numerous and often have low standards, so anybody who can pull off some halfway cynicism and ill-conceived negativity can gain a reasonable following.
Criticism should be hard.
It should require critical thinking, it should require looking past one’s own sensibilities, and it should require being able to create content that’s actually valuable to people as criticism. A lot of critics are playing on easy mode, and we shouldn’t have to tolerate that. Criticism can be valuable, but that’ll take effort both on the part of the critics and the general fanbase.
The fanbase needs to have standards, hold critics to those standards, and call out the ones who are faking the funk.
The critics need to have standards, hold themselves and their community to those standards, and call out the pretenders to the throne.
If criticism is as valuable as people say it is, let’s, at the very least, make it look like something that’s valuable, rather than pretend that it has value right now.