Anime · Omnibus

Dear anime critics, You’re not helping!

I want to preface this post by mentioning that I am not talking about amateur bloggers who post their own reviews online. This is an open letter to the professional critics out there, i.e.: writers on websites that actually make money. I’ve noticed that  there are three types of anime critics online: (1) the jaded curmudgeons that have “seen it all before” (not that I blame them – unoriginality and laziness can be legitimate critiques – if used sparingly); (2) the fanboy/fangirl that wants every single bonus extra that came out in Japan; and (3) the art/movie snob that is using every column as an audition for a job at the New York Times. All three types have two things in common: (a) they are over-obsessive in one aspect or another, be it plot points, technical aspects of the DVD, or hidden symbolism; and (b) they are not helping the cause to have anime gain acceptance in Western culture.

Thanks to Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, there was a short period in the early 2000’s where anime (and manga) were part of the mainstream Western culture. I believe someone did a three part series about how that bubble burst later in the decade. And while I try by darnedest to not say never, it is highly unlikely that the bubble will rise again. It is for the best that the anime market has been co-opted and riding the coattails of the comic book industry. There is so much overlap that neither niche market could survive if they went head-to-head. The major difference between the two markets is that comic book critics, for the most part, have constructive recommendations that could improve sed title, and that they are trying to be inclusive in order to bring new fans into the tent. I just don’t see that with the anime critics on the popular websites.

Most online anime reviews tend to be in the form of one otaku talking to another. It’s akin to reading articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, or any other academic or professional trade magazine. In other words, if you are not already an expert in the field, the articles will be hard to fully understand and follow. Even with some laymen knowledge, it could appear to be a dry (i.e.: boring) read. Not that I’m asking everyone to become a writer for “Anime for Dummies” or something. I just wonder, with all of the name dropping, techno-jargon (not to be confused with techno-babble), and purple prose, I have to ask, “Just who the heck are you expecting to read this?”

I am not saying that I hate these critics just because I disagree with their opinions. In fact, most of them are excellent writers that know how to reenforce their theses with multiple points and arguments. That is why they are the ones who are getting published, and more importantly, getting paid. I have no reason to question their intelligence. My beef is that everyone, not just critics, have biases and blind spots, and anime critics tend not to be self-aware of them. I have a liberal arts background, so I was taught hoe to de-construct. But as the Fox News Network has proven, most people are not willing and/or able to notice blatant and subjective slants toward certain subjects. It’s bad enough that you need to have taken certain college level courses to understand some anime titles (I’m looking at you, Evangelion), I feel like that you also need a college education to truly recognize just exactly what the critic is saying. Hey, “reading between the lines” is what a critic is supposed to do. Why should I have to read between the reading between the lines? Of course, the opposite end of the spectrum are the ones that have no perspective of the history of the medium. Sometimes, a little cross-referencing can be a great help. Otherwise, any review of the latest “next big thing” as being the greatest of all time makes the reviewer come off as a professional wrestling promoter.

The bottom line is that I haven’t seen a website whose mission statement is to try to develop new fans into the fold and help newcomers to discover older anime titles that they might enjoy right away, based on the one or two title that they have already seen. There are not enough sites dedicated to getting the novice up to speed with the otaku. There are too many inside jokes, industry jargon, and Japanese phrases being thrown around without much explanation to those that are not already in the loop. This hobby is way too expensive to go by a hit-or-miss basis. The hard-core fanbase is supersaturated with blogs and websites. That’s why I created my anime for beginners case files. For me, discovering new anime was trial and error. It shouldn’t be that way for others.

With some help from fate, I tend to be a contrarian more often than not. I tend to distrust the “consensus” and “conventional wisdom.” Being an aficionado of history has reenforced my misgivings. Perhaps, I will begin a series called “The Hall of Overrated” for either a specific genre, or just make it all-inclusive. For those that have been keeping score of my reviews, you may have noticed very few negative reviews here. I simply have not bothered posting my negative reviews yet, but trust me, I have a whole bunch of “C” and “D” grade titles in my library. And when my writing style improves, I might get around to reviewing some of them. And that gets me to my grading system. I thought long and hard about which system to use. I thought about a “Buy/Rent/Pass” system, but that system is predicated on the you, the reader, being on the same wavelength. And believe me, that is simply not the case. This is a pop culture/sports/anime blog. I am not on the same wavelength with anyone. My grades are not only a reflection of my biases, but I also factor in the title’s own merits as well. So when I grade something a “B” or a “C” it not only reflects how much I was entertained, but also whether or not the title succeeded in hitting its target audience. Some shows only go after a niche audience. Some shoot for the moon and try to appeal to everyone. Anime, in particular, falls within the former. Yet some critics tend to base the grades as if anime falls within the latter. The anime industry is aware that it can not afford to be mainstream yet. A review of a Studio Ghibli movie can not be judged on the same criterion as a Disney/Pixar film. And a review for a late night anime TV series can not be reviewed the same way as a Ghibli film. There are many novice anime fans out there who became fans because of Ninja Scroll, or Cowboy Bebop. These folks are not going to go to watch My Neighbor Totoro, yet alone enjoy it. I just don’t understand how these snobs, fanboys, and posers expect to reach, motivate, and cultivate the next wave of snobs, fangirls, and posers based on their reviews.

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4 thoughts on “Dear anime critics, You’re not helping!

  1. I don’t think the problem lies on the snobbish personalities of professional reviewers; it’s more of the intended audience/demographic.

    You are looking through the newcomers’ perspectives, something akin to tabula rasa. I respect that idea; we do need sites and blogs for newcomers. Today’s anime blogs love to show Neon Genesis Evangelion as an “Essential Anime” and while I love it, it’s hard for people to watch.

    I personally don’t know how to solve this issue. As an amateur reviewer posting on MyAnimeList, I think your opinions are right, yet I have to write things like “Gosh, this anime is so unoriginal.” My audience is not for newcomers, but people who think a bit more critically.

    It’s the same with film critics; with art critics; with lit critics; and pretty much any type of critics. We can’t really pander to everybody, you know.

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      1. Thing is, newcomers find their stuff through other means…and unless something A) big comes or B)publishers come up with better business models, it’s going to be hard for newcomers to get into anime via anime critics, especially since newcomers are exposed to free manga and anime illegally (and besides that, some people don’t take reviews at face value). You make valid points, but it’s not quite as easy as one would hope when anime in general is pretty niche.

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