On Anime Criticism Part 3

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.”




10 thoughts on “On Anime Criticism Part 3”

  1. Well said. One thing that personally bothers me about anime critics is that when you point out why you think what they’re saying is faulty, they always come back to you with, “Well, that’s MY opinion! Deal with it!”

    I personally see that as a dumb excuse. The reason why is because, while they are indeed entitled to their opinions, I believe that the way one presents their opinion is just as important as the opinion itself. Maybe even more. Quite frankly, I would prefer a negative review that logically, politely, and reasonably explains why they think a show is garbage over a positive review with no thought or effort put into it any day of the week.

    I think it’s funny how a lot of these anime critics are hating certain shows for “pandering”, but by constantly putting out reviews to appeal to the desires of a certain audience, they’re doing the exact same thing they were against. Hypocrisy much?

    The problem with reviewers refusing to accept criticism and discussing it, is that I feel it renders the point of putting your reviews out there moot. If you decide you want to put your opinion out there, you should expect any kind of criticism whether you like it or not. If you didn’t want to deal with people disagreeing with you or calling you out, then you never should have posted that review in the first place. Besides, isn’t it a lot more interesting to have discussions with a wide variety of perspectives and opinions, as opposed to everyone blindly agreeing with you?

    1. I feel like people take the whole “It’s MY opinion” thing as a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to criticism. They talk about “it’s just my opinion” as if they don’t have to qualify it with facts. Fact is, opinions have to be backed-up with solid facts to hold any water. Otherwise, it’s just personal preference, and that only really goes so far when the goal is creating discussion.

      That said, I’m convinced a lot of these people aren’t interested in discussion anyway, and that’s a problem.

  2. I agree that these reviewers not accepting criticism is a huge problem, and in my mind, it just makes them out to be hacks. It’s important that they engage with their detractors in a civil and meaningful way, instead of just writing them off as pissy and passive-aggressive like Bertschy once did.

    1. Once did?!!!! Bertschy still treats his critics like that. If you question anything that he has to say with regards to a show, he will result to throwing insults and calling you names. He’s a hack in the minds of everyone except those on the ANN forums who subscribe to his condescending mindset.

    2. You meant Zac? While I often find him funny, I don’t find him a very good critic.

      Since the entire point of his stuff is to be snide and funny, he tries too hard to “trash” the subject, while focusing much less on actual constructive criticism. Which is fine, as that isn’t the point of the humor, but it definitely makes his reviews less critically viable.

      1. And that just shows he’s really jaded and cynical of most anime in general. He shouldn’t have to do joke reviews if he were actually passionate about the medium.

    3. That’s what I can’t get about this. Critics should be in love with their detractors. They should be chomping at the bit to engage with them. Criticism should be all about gaining perspective, but instead it’s become this entire “Well, that’s just YOUR opinion and this is mine” thing where people with dissenting opinions are brushed off because it’s easier than having to actually debate with them.

  3. I think there’s a certain false dichotomy that feeds the problem and that is people separate it into something like this:

    Smart people watch Smart anime
    Stupid people watch Stupid anime

    That’s certainly an oversimplification but this is where imo the biggest banalities on anime criticism comes from. The problem is when a lot of the critics are actually stupid people watching smart anime to make themselves feel smart, or so they think. Of course this kind of thing can only work in a self-affirming (aka mob thinking) fashion in which a community of self appointed elitists define quality. This isn’t just true in anime, but almost every hobby really. To make this distinction, this group needs to raise itself above “popular opinion”, but yes, in the end they create their own brand of popular opinions.

    There’s a small chance people from this group know what they’re talking about, but in my anecdotal experience like any group of fools needs to demean others in order to give them credibility. I’ve received plenty of private messages on MAL from pretentious hygiene products telling me why I am totally wrong for bashing their deep work or liking something pedestrian. Of course, most can’t really explain what they think being the simplest of sentences, so there’s that.

    1. From what I’ve seen, few of the “high-level” people who sing the praises of “smart anime” and bash on “stupid anime” actually have an understanding of the themes, ideas, and whatnot that are discussed in their beloved “smart anime.” The fact that there seem to be so few of these people who understand what exactly is going on in, say, Evangelion demonstrates to me these people are truly the “aristocrat class” of the anime fandom: A group of people elevated not because of merit, but because of their connections and a perceived image of knowledge and wisdom due to ultimately arbitrary factors.

      Their followers, subsequently, can’t fully articulate their own stances because their opinions are either 1: Predicated on the opinions held by their favored critics, without endeavouring to form their own opinions based on that, or 2: Formed from a lacking perspective and reinforced by critics they agree with, without endeavouring to entertain perspectives they might not agree with. It’s the blind leading the blind.

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