Criticism 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.
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.
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.
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.