I’ve commented on anime criticism before and, from that commentary, a reasonable question to ask would be, “If anime criticism is so broken, how come it continues to move forward in its broken state?”
Reviewers and critics would be nowhere without their audiences. Otherwise, they would just be shouting opinions into the ether. We (“We” as in not just all reviewers, but all content creators) create content so it can be consumed by people, and by way of that, so people will interact with the content we create and with us.
A content creator’s content will, no doubt, be influenced by his or her audience. This can manifest in many ways. Many great internet radio shows I listen to, for example, have very active audience interaction, where the audience can, in certain ways, interact with the hosts live and shape the content of the show. Other times, audience influence might manifest itself in content creators getting ideas for content directly from the audience, but still maintaining their personal style and level of quality.
At best, the audience can serve as a source of meaningful content, or as an interactive element. At worst, a creator can sacrifice his or her integrity or his or her own ideas in an effort to exclusively pander to a specific desire of their audience. Critics are not immune to this temptation, and many succumb to it.
A critic certainly has a responsibility to his or her audience, but he or she has an equal responsibility to the subject of criticism. What I mean by that is that it’s a critic’s job to give a show a fair shake and a fair assessment. When a critic decides that pandering to an audience is more important than giving a work the criticism it deserves, criticism breaks down.
To a certain extent, the audience is complicit in this. Unfortunately, many consumers of criticism do so not to figure out what they might want to watch, or to jump off of said criticism into a discussion, but simply to see what their favored critic thinks about a particular work of media. Regardless of actual prowess or critical eye, many people will still follow some critics simply because they agree with their opinions, or like the way they present themselves.
What we end up with is a cycle of poor critics, nonetheless supported by their fans, continuing to create poor criticism, which those fans continue to feed into. There’s no drive for improvement because the fanbase is happy regardless. In addition, this environment makes it incredibly easy for dissenting opinions to be either buried by the praise and agreement of the fans, or brushed off outright as “haters.”
The problem is that the environment in modern anime criticism is remarkably hostile to disagreement and discussion predicated on that disagreement, especially when it comes to the nature of that criticism itself. We’re in an environment where calling a critic out for saying something you find off-base can easily result in a full-blown argument where neither party is able to reach an understanding with the other because one or both decided before the conversation even began that they are above being called-out and above explaining themselves.
This is something that cannot survive if we want anime criticism to be the institution that it can be. We need to foster an environment where calling someone out for saying something off-base and having a real discussion about that becomes common practice. Too many are simply content to brush off and deflect dissenting opinions, rather than engage with them. We’re in an environment where criticizing critics is seen as taboo, and that’s bad.
As I said in the first installment:
“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.
For criticism to work properly, it must constantly be questioned, discussed, and debated. Without this discourse surrounding it, a work of criticism is no different from any other dumb opinion put out across the internet. Without debate and discourse,
“Throughout all the ecchi and harem action, however, BokuTomo operates with a subtle subtext about being a social outcast. Every character has their own reason for being alienated from society, and it plays into how the characters interact with themselves, each other, and other people, and how they view themselves and others. It makes for a very interesting series that goes a bit deeper past just the harem elements.”
becomes no more valuable than,
“I liked this because it has boobs in it.”