On Anime Criticism

shot0031Criticism of the medium is a major hot-button issue within the anime fandom. There’s a rift between the anime critic community and the rest of the fandom, such that those who identify as “anime critics” are typically seen as out-of-touch with the general fandom. In addition, the majority of anime fans who identify as critics hold certain points of view on subjects such as moe and fanservice, and those with alternate views on those subjects are underrepresented in the critical community.

Part of the problem is that the “critic” segment of the community is very insular and difficult to penetrate. Your average fan might look up to some critics, and might look to them for guidance on what’s good and what’s bad in terms of anime, but isn’t encouraged to become one. True, not everyone can be a successful or competent critic, but on a whole, it seems to be like critics are resistant to new blood and fresh ideas in their community, which brings me to another point.

The “critic” community subscribes to a lot of really arbitrary rules and standards. For example, a lot of critics like to do this “Death of the Author” thing where no consideration is given to what the creator has to say about his or her creation of media. The concept, at its core, is somewhat sound (Though I do question the value of alternate interpretations of a work of which the intention has already been spelled out), but some people take it to an extreme.

Stella
Is it really fair to accuse a work of promoting “gun culture” when the target culture of said work has no “gun culture” to speak of?

Anime is a Japanese product. We use the term “anime” to refer to cartoons from Japan because the fact that it comes from Japan, and all of what that entails about the way it’s produced, its aesthetic, the way it approaches its themes and the themes it approaches, and the concepts in involves, is special to us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t use the term “anime.” Some anime “critics,” however, take the “Death of the Author” to a cultural level, rendering the culture a work originates from meaningless and allowing them to judge an anime from a 100% Western perspective with no consideration given to the cultural origin.

Strike Witches
Was Humikane Shimada being sexist when he came up with Strike Witches, or was it simply his artistic vision?

At best, this is an excuse to be ignorant about Japanese culture. At worst, it’s pure ethnocentrism. Now, I’m not saying that a Western perspective isn’t valuable in criticism of anime. What I’m saying is that the complete removal of the cultural origins surrounding a work from a different culture is reductive and serves to discourage discussion about how culture affects and informs media. Worse even, it can potentially misrepresent a work altogether. For example, a common criticism of Strike Witches is that it’s “sexist” and “misogynistic.” Is it really fair to accuse its creators of sexism and misogyny, when that was never their intention? I really doubt Humikane Shimada was anticipating having his brainchild called out by Western critics for some really serious offenses when he created the illustrations that would go on to form the basis of Strike Witches. Not to mention, it also tends to paint the audience for such shows in an unfavorable manner, which brings up another problem.

"Pedophilic"
“Pedophilic”

Many “critics” claim to not disparage fans when they criticize anime. The language some of these critics use, however, often doesn’t seem to support that claim. Words like “creepy,” “misogynist,” and “pedophilic,” do paint the fanbases of shows described in those ways, no matter how much critics might swear that they don’t mean to pass judgment on the fans. It’s possible to judge a show without judging the fans, but it involves a careful choice of words and, at the end of the day, it’s much easier to just disregard people’s perception, fall back on what are increasingly becoming buzzwords, and then continue to claim to not judge fans.

“Criticism” is not a sacred institution. Its standards, rules, and practices should always be called into question, and the ways we talk about media should not be determined by arbitrary rules laid out by a few, and held back by complacency, laziness, and a resistance to change. In addition, we should not have to tolerate “critics” using anime criticism as a platform with which to shout down fans they find contemptible or promote their political viewpoint.

The purpose of criticism is to create discussion around media. Many “critics” lament that an anime critic community like we have here doesn’t exist on the Japanese side of the anime fandom and industry. These people have the wrong idea. If discussion of media still takes place (Which it does in Japan) without an institution of “criticism,” then perhaps criticism, at least in its current state, doesn’t have as much value as we put in it. Perhaps, then, it’s okay to let go of some of these arbitrary rules and hold our critics to some standards, rather than accepting “criticism” because it’s “criticism.” Perhaps it’s time for criticism to become accessible and knowledgeable, so as to pass on that knowledge in a way people can understand, and in doing so, enrich people’s enjoyment of media.

14 Replies to “On Anime Criticism”

  1. You bring up some good points especially about the “sexist” and “misogynistic” with Strike Witches. SW is not even close those “terms” used. Especially considering that the girls themselves are actual strong female characters. Is there anime out that is really sexist or misogynistic? Yes there are, and it is has gotten to the point where words like “sexist or sexism” and “misogynistic” have become so often used that they have now more like buzzwords than actual words.

    Looking at things just from a Western perspective is IMO really short sighted. This is why I have issues with certain reviews for shows that feature the Yamato Nadeshiko character type. If you look at from just the Western perspective then I could see someone saying not sexist or misogynistic. Keeping in mind that if that character type was done poorly then someone look at it from both Western and Japanese perspectives and be potentially right in saying that it would be sexiest. Take for example Aoi Sakuraba from Ai Yori Aoshi who yes she is a Yamato Nadeshiko but she is also strong female character. When her father told her to forget Kaoru when their arranged marriage was called off she could have easily just accepted this and went on with her life but she did not. She loved Kaoru and went against her father to be with him.

    On the topic of political opinions in an anime review there is a very short answer to this. Your ready? It doesn’t belong there. If you want to talk about political opinions you do put them where they belong, and that is in an opinion article. Now you could talk about an anime title within a political opinion is it actual fits in there. C3-bu doesn’t promote gun culture. I’m not even sure how in the hell Zac came up that C3-bu even promotes gun culture when ITS ABOUT AIRSOFT GUNS!

  2. Great article. When I first watched CCS back in middle school, I didn’t watch it with the western mindset that most of these critics seem to have. I was open to what I was getting into, and as a result, I enjoyed it.

    I also agree with you about how the western fanbase criticizes the creators intention is all wrong. I hate how people in the western fanbase tend to call creators/directors/staff etc. paedophiles, lolicons, etc. They have no consideration for the effort these people put into the anime. Also, the main focus of their criticisms is just one minor aspect, that being the fanservice that some of these shows have; yet they have the gall to ignore every other aspect of the show and claim that “it’s bad.” Fanservice doesn’t make a show bad; I see fanservice as a plus for an already good series.

  3. ” Your average fan might look up to some critics, and might look to them for guidance on what’s good and what’s bad in terms of anime, but isn’t encouraged to become one. ”

    As opposed to the situation in…what other medium ?
    And really, being a “critic” doesnt amount to any actual measurable skill being involved, other than having a loose tongue. Being able to slag off in a single page (at best), a work others spent years of their life creating – is that really something worthy to look up to ? Why cant that said “critic” also go into business of making things, and not just talking about things other people made ? Presumably critics have a pair of hands on them, as they can type, so surely they can be useful to the humanity as a whole in some observable way ?

    1. Exactly, and I’m saying that the state of affairs doesn’t have to be that way. There can be value to what critics do, but the way they go about it currently doesn’t have very much value in the grand scheme of things. A critic’s primary goal should be to create discussion.

      Being a critic should involve measurable skill, but it doesn’t.

      Slagging off a work created by others shouldn’t be something to look up to, but those people still call themselves “critics” and people look up to those people.

      Critics should at least be familiar with the production process.

      Not everyone is cut out to be a critic, and I think it’s time to start calling out the people who are faking the funk.

  4. It’s also amusing that critics generally use a small pool of anime when talking about misogyny/sexisim/pedophila. Examples include Strike Witches (yet almost no one sites Sky Girls) and KnJ (despite Moetan coming out the same year and season).

    Photo Kano seems to be a new one badmouthed.

  5. My problems with a lot of anime ‘criticism’ is that most of it is baseless, arbitrary, and a result of current biases and state of mind. This amounts to a lot of opinions that are simply useless and practically force any reader to experience the media themselves to gather any definitive conclusions about a show or film.

  6. I think the problem here is that too many people think that criticism and reviews are just opinion and nothing more. What bothers me the most about this mindset is that people will accept the most asinine and badly written reviews simply because “Well it’s their opinion and if you have a problem with it, clearly you can’t accept other people’s opinions”.

    I can accept someone disliking Kodomo no Jikan (Hell, for as much as I love the manga, I think it suffers from pacing problems, especially at the end), what I can’t accept however, is someone using Kodomo no Jikan as a way to rant about how creepy and gross they think lolicon is and then call all the fans pedophiles.

    1. Exactly!

      I recall we had a guest on our podcast who disliked Lucky Star, but unlike many who dismissed it for being “otaku pandering for pedophiles”, that person’s reason was sound and rational (wasn’t fond of the SOL girly chatter).

      I’m not into Code Geass, but TEAnubis and kgods accept that.

    2. The thing is anime criticism is as much like anime reviewing as anything. All of this is opinion. Sure anime criticism can be more in-depth (the only real difference since it explores themes and messages) but it is colored by biases as much as anime reviewing. Biases exist over us all being human. There is nothing to be done about that at all, The faster this is accepted the better.

      1. I disagree on the notion that criticism is all about opinion. If this was all about opinion, reviewers and critics wouldn’t exist. I can get an opinion anywhere.

        What’s different between a normal person and a critic is that a critic is supposed to have perspective. A critic is supposed to be able to remove his or herself from their assessment, to a degree. A critic is supposed to be knowledgeable about the subject matter, and use that knowledge to reinforce their assessment of a work and, most importantly, encourage discussion.

        Biases exist over us all, but we are not slaves to them. I’m perfectly capable of understanding when a show I dislike is nonetheless a good show, as should any critic be. The problem is, we have in this fandom people who fancy themselves critics and reviewers, but who so unapologetically wear their biases on their sleeve to the point where their reviews and criticism are of little use to people who don’t share their biases. It’s masturbatory, to be frank.

        Moreover, it starts to become a significant issue when these people use their platform as a “reviewer” or “critic” to attack fans or shut out discussion. Incidentally, the argument many of them fall back on is “it’s just my opinion.” The notion that any of this is supposed to just be opinion is the problem here.

  7. The word “misogyny” in this day and age is nothing more than a common buzzword to demonize male sexuality. To give women the power to tell men when they should feel aroused and to what. I am really glad that Japan has bended to this feminist pressure but I am afraid it won’t be long till Japan joins the league of evil that is feminism.
    Pedophilia is another buzzword thrown around by the AMB to shame men (not women mind you) for liking cute petite girls in a sexual manner based on what “feels” wrong to most of the AMB not on any empirical evidence. I’ve been on forums where people will admit there are no victims and their entire reasoning boils down to what they “feel” is wrong in an attempt to get more people on their side. Cause they are too ashamed to show anime to their friends and family because of they would be labeled by ignorant people.

    If the fans here would support more shows that do cater to them like Redline or Afro Samurai when they are released here maybe they would have a say in what the industry produces for them.

    I know that what I said has nothing to do with anime criticism whatsoever but that’s the kind of bullshit western critics bring to criticizing works from Japan. On top of wanting to be taken seriously by other fans be putting on some haughty air to seem more intellectually refined.

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