Meta, Meta, Meta

A lot has been said about the art of anime reviewing lately, and as a writer new to the scene it behooves me to comment on this.

I’ll confess my bias right off the bat: I don’t think that it’s possible for someone to be too analytical, but I do think it’s possible for one to be too analytical for a given reader.

It’s been said: I’m a postmodernist.

My theory of criticism as it pertains to the ongoing discussion is, people are comfortable reading things at a certain level of depth, and react to attempts to give them a different level with hostility: either you’re a moron for giving them too simple a review, or you’re a huge dork who obsesses too much over details.

Is there a “solution” to this? Why, whoever said it was a problem?

Obviously on some level it’s not ideal for people to have different tastes and hence differing conclusions: if the point of your reading an anime review is to find more anime that you will like, you ideally want reviewers to capture your tastes perfectly. But finding ten thousand otaku marching in goose-step makes for a very boring blogosphere. It is in debate, in trying to explain ourselves to others who do not share our views, that we reach beyond a superficial description of our likes and dislikes.  We evolve when we are forced to.

Akira writes, “I’m not saying we should ban all deep talk on anime and glare at 2D tits all day, but we must be prudent not to overanalyze things into the realm of ridiculousness.”

And therein lies the rub. What is the realm of ridiculousness? What is a ridiculous level of analysis for you is something that others may be perfectly comfortable with. Who are you, then, to say what they can or cannot think about? Certainly if I produce criticism, you are free to accept or reject it, and to tell me that you find it over-analytical or otherwise lacking. And certainly I may feel obligated to please my readers. But this is a slippery slope and ultimately, to take another term from his reviews, a “crapshoot:” Even if I have my mind set on pleasing readers, I may also receive comments from people praising my attention to detail. And even if comments unilaterally speak in one direction, there is hardly any guarantee that my attempts to ape some other standards that I am unfamiliar with will produce results pleasing to me, to the readers who complain, or to anyone.

This is ridiculous.  Or someone's dream. Or both.

On some level, audience matters. I can have a discussion with Mike about the attributes of the Shekinah, and it will make sense to us and not be ridiculous. Yet if I attempt to have this very same discussion with another theoretical physicist, I risk being branded a loon or a religious nut. Is it wrong of Mike and I to engage in such a conversation? No. Is it wrong, then, of the physicist to look at me like I’m crazy if I bring it up with him? Not necessarily then, either: I would know what I was talking about, but I would also be acting in a grossly inappropriate fashion. The context involved is different.

Our “problem” – if you wish to call hundreds of shut-ins discovering that other people who are just as passionate about anime as they are can and do have different tastes “a problem” – is that we have no cues for context. On some level, anime, like most forms of art, is experiential and deeply personal. How many years have religious believers argued over their personal experiences of the numinous? I will not argue that anime is a religion (Haruhiism aside), but the very same expectation exists: your wonderful experience must be my wonderful experience, or else.

Dogmatic thought: coming to an anime community near you!

I’m pretty critical of that.

8 thoughts on “Meta, Meta, Meta”

  1. if the point of your reading an anime review is to find more anime that you will like, you ideally want reviewers to capture your tastes perfectly.”


    —True. Basically, that’s just the thought about it.

    “But finding ten thousand otaku marching in goose-step makes for a very boring blogosphere. It is in debate, in trying to explain ourselves to others who do not share our views, that we reach beyond a superficial description of our likes and dislikes.”


    —Kind of. But if Haruhi-ists are on the loose, well, you can’t stop them. They like it. :D

    “Our “problem” – if you wish to call hundreds of shut-ins discovering that other people who are just as passionate about anime as they are can and do have different tastes “a problem” – is that we have no cues for context”


    —Maybe. But I just oso (sometimes) hate mecha-nerds. No offense to such people if they ever read this. It’s just that, well… I’ll just shutup.

  2. Thanks for stopping by.

    rollchan, I would not want to stop the Haruhiists.  They don’t make the blogosphere boring either.

    IKnight, I’m flattered that you take an interest in my work. It’s true that I only have one Anime Diet review on file, but surely the four examples of past work linked to in my opening entry count for something.  And of course I’ll have more articles as the days go by.

    As for this article, I don’t intend to state that criticism has one proper purpose, nor would I propose to defend such a viewpoint.  My stance is more existential.

  3. (Mecha-nerd reporting in.)

    It doesn’t really behoove you to comment: you could demonstrate your approach to criticism by practicing it.

    Anyway, I think you’re quite right that the audience matters, but I’m not sure I’ve grasped from this what you think the purpose of criticism is, and whether you’re discussing criticism that’s primarily aesthetic or primarily analytic.

  4. Audience definitely matters, but for the context at hand, I think that the right audience will find you. When I first started out, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, and I wound up doing a lot of basic merchandise/life posts – it wasn’t until afterward that I started episodics, and it wasn’t until even later that I moved on to editorials. I’m sure that I lost a few readers along the way, but I’m equally certain that I gained a few.

    What I’m trying to say is, while a person churning out university-level essays on anime shouldn’t expect to reach DarkMirage’s level of traffic, the writer shouldn’t be ashamed either. One look at Super Fani is all you really need: their information is inappropriate in terms of audience and it wouldn’t appeal to most anime fans, but it does appeal to some, and those are the people that will continue to read them. I guess it’s a long and drawn out way of saying “write what you want, and somewhere, someone will enjoy it.”

  5. Yes.  It’s definitely self-selecting.

    Conceptually, I find that this is a satisfactory reason at the broadest level as well as on the personal, practical level – it’s good to have a variety of views in reviews because otaku themselves have a variety of tastes.

  6. I will not argue that anime is a religion (Haruhiism aside), but the very same expectation exists: your wonderful experience must be my wonderful experience, or else.

    That’s the main problem, in my opinion.  Too many conversations about entertainment boil down to a conflicting, “If you don’t like it, you’re wrong.”/”Fuck you.” argument.  It’s okay to like something, it’s okay to write the most shallow article about it, it’s even okay to write a really, really dense article on the topic, but I hate it when people are criticized for having one view instead of another.  There are audiences for all kinds of criticism and discussion out there, and it would be nice if everyone could realize that fact.  It would also be nice if people realized there’s no “right” way to do anything, only a series of solutions that come with their respective strengths and weaknesses.  It would also be nice if I could get a job…

    …Anyway, great article.  I look forward to reading more of your work in the future, moritheil.

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