It’s no secret that I hate the word “pandering” as it’s used by the Anti-Moé Brigade. Further than that, however, it’s often a poor word to use in the way it’s used due to its meaning and connotation. The way it’s used makes it really easy to obfuscate one’s meaning, or to say something that one doesn’t mean, and that’s harmful.
At its core, to “pander” to a group means to appeal to that group by giving it things it wants. Any instance of the phrase “panders to” can be changed to “caters to” without the surface meaning changing at all. The word choice, however, is dictated by the underlying meaning. “Pander,” despite meaning the same as other terms, is an exclusively negative term. You never hear “pandering” being used to describe something positively. There are hidden words in the phrase “Show X panders to Demographic Y.” It’s “Show X panders to Demographic Y and I don’t like Demographic Y, so that’s bad,” or “Show X panders to Demographic Y but not my demographic, so that’s bad.”
It’s a meaningless word in the way it’s used. Any show appealing to the wrong fandom is “pandering,” but don’t you dare call the shows that appeal to the right fandom “pandering.” That’s because “pandering” entertainment is always bad, seeing as “pandering” is an exclusively negative term.
Let’s face facts, though: If a show has a lot of elements you like, presented in a way you like, then you’re likely to enjoy the show. This goes for everyone. Naturally, something that appeals to you and caters to your tastes is something you’re more likely to find quality in. On the other side of that, something that does things you don’t like and, by way of doing that, appeals to a section of fandom you don’t like, is something you’re more likely to dislike or find sub-par.
Words like “pandering” obfuscate the discussion. It’s easy to say “This show is pandering,” but, by itself, that doesn’t really mean anything. The connotation is negative, but there’s no reason given for why Show X pandering to Demographic Y is bad. It’s basically just saying “This show caters to a particular subset of fandom,” which is something nobody really needs to be told and anyone can find out on their own.
Again, there are words missing from those instances where “pandering” is used to negatively describe a show. It’s “pandering,” but why is that bad?
Who a show was designed to appeal to should never be an issue when we’re talking about whether a show’s good or bad. The only reason it ever is an issue is because we have a subset of people within the anime fandom who see appealing to the wrong subset of fandom as a negative quality of an anime, the same as having poor animation or a bad story. We lose focus when we start looking at external factors like who the show was made for, or whether or not the show was “designed to sell figures” when trying to judge quality. None of these details, in reality, dictate how good or bad a show is. The only place they do is in the heads of people who have an axe to grind with anime fans they don’t like.
“Is the anime good?”
That’s the only question.