In My View: Coburn you have drug me out of the shadows

Coburn, Coburn, Coburn…

You’ve managed to drag me out of the shadows.

Anyway, I came across Coburn’s post when DrmChsr0 linked it, and to be honest it’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Of course that subject being favorite shows. Now I’ve didn’t read the responses, mostly because I didn’t really feel like it at the time, but I thought since this blog was the impetus for the original post, I should reply.

Okay, so how I define all time favorite shows is kind of tricky, and it’ll take more than one post. I do want to start where Coburn started because I think we need a frame for what we’re talking about when we talk about good, so I’m going to tread some tired ground and talk about rating systems.

Now Coburn opened by saying he was looking for a perfect “10” series. When he said that I started thinking: What defines a “10” anyway? Can I even classify series I watch as “10s” or without flaws. The assumption Coburn made was, I think of my all time favorite shows as “10s” and I find them flawless.

That isn’t the case.

When I see a rating system, I see a completely arbitrary set of numbers. The problem with applying a rating to anything is it isn’t just a measure of how much you enjoyed the show. It’s a measure of how much you enjoyed the show at the time and in the mental state you watched it in. So if I’m tired and feeling grouchy and don’t particularly feel like watching X giant robot show, and I watch X giant robot show I’m not going to like it as much as if I wanted to watch it. The same holds true if a show doesn’t match my tastes, or if I got into a fight at work, or if I’m just feeling unpleaseant, or if I happened to give something else a low mark right before it. Or I happened to read lolkit’s comment about how low his MAL average was before I went on a rating spree.

In fact, it’s affected by so many factors any rating is largely a useless number if taken on its own. The only time a rating is useful to the average reader is when you have a whole bunch of them so you can see what the mean rating is (this is why ANN’s encyclopedia is useful.)

Not only is a rating arbitrary, it’s a cop out. All a rating says is how much the viewer enjoyed the show at the particular time he rated it.

It doesn’t define good.

The problem with defining good


The problem we face when we start trying to define what is good probably can be summed up in a quote I’m stealing from iKnight (who stole it from someone else)

“There is a difference between something being good and liking it.”

Now, I agree there is a difference. A rating system defines how much a person liked a show. However, I don’t believe there is an empirical way to prove how “good” something is. Sure I could point out plot, character, world-building, theme, etc. and say they are “good.” But what does that really mean? What if someone disagrees? Is their opinion less valid if they offer proof I’m wrong? Isn’t any judgment on these issues simply a matter of taste?

So I’m left with a conundrum. Intuitively, I think iKnight is right, but, objectively, I can’t prove it.

But I do think there’s a solution. While I don’t believe there is an empirical “good” like this quote seems to hint at, I do believe there is a more honest “good.” The reason why I called any ratings system a cop out is because there’s no accountability. If I say a show is a seven and someone says, “Well I think it’s a nine.” All I have to do is wave my hand and say, “Well it’s just my opinion.”

But if I say, “You should watch this show because I think it’s good.” You have to take responsibility for it one way or the other and on some level that is more pressure than simply saying, “Well it’s good.” There in lies the difference between something being good and just liking a show (or at least I think so.)

Now with my favorites, in most cases, I would say they are good and people should watch them.

But that isn’t why they’re my favorites. They’re my favorites because their flaws are minor in comparison to what I like about them. Now that discussion is going to have to come later.



  1. There’s a blend of objective and subjective ratings for any “person” but when it comes to professional publications they likely need more objectivity, which leads to “what title A says” etc etc.

    If you can find a highly objective rater, then we may be onto something, but it’s tough.

    You may find this interesting. I’ve basically done away with a finite arbitrary rating system on this media engine I baked. Somewhere in the premise lies this “raters with more experience will have more weight in the system,” which essentially leads to strong competition between titles at the top.

    What does hold true, is that if there are very strong raters (say with 1000+ experiences for a given media), and a mathematical line is drawn between a given title on those lists, a genuine “placement” will be found. It doesn’t say good or bad, but how it relates to other titles… it’s relative.

    On the issue of good, etc. I think suggestions are a way to tell people about other titles, while recommendations should advocate a given title, directly. Still, it’s not easy to blindly take suggestions, but if you can strike a comparison between two experience histories, some suggestions may be more reliable than others.

    Personally, when I consider suggesting an anime, I consider the case where a viewer does not even watch anime. If it’s something that can be appreciated beyond the media, I’d say it’s a plus.

  2. You know what is good?

    Provide links to people’s posts that you refer to :p

    But generally bravo. I think this post goes without saying, and it always kind of bothers me how many people haven’t figured this out yet.

    To answer Ryan, there are no highly objective rater. At least, if there is one it wouldn’t be a person; it would be a system or an algorithm, a framework. And even so those are often rife with bias and flaws, plus running with danger of being opaque and further subject to bias in interpretation by whoever uses said framework.

    Which is actually the one nitpick I have with this post. Saying ANN Encyclopedia’s ranking is useful is true in that there are a lot of results, and what we see there is objective in the sense that everyone sees the same numbers. However that result has to be correctly interpreted and it is, like all statistics, saying as much as it isn’t saying.

  3. I look at something being “good” as something that’s seen as such by a group of people at least, whereas liking something is personal. And then I go from there.

  4. Man, it’s good to see you’re still alive and kicking.

    As far as ratings go, I still pay attention to them even though I know I shouldn’t.

    As far as liking “good” things, I like what I like, regardless of whether they’re actually “good” or not.

    How’s that for putting things simply? 😉

  5. @ Ryan A – I have to echo what omo said. I don’t think there is an objective rater. In fact, I tend to think experience, while useful, doesn’t necessarily allow people to judge a show more effectively (although it’s something I’m planning on touching on in more detail later.)

    Experience is more helpful in analysis though. It does tend to provide better insights.

    @ omo – It kind of surprises me that people seem to think there is an objective good as well.

    Yeah, your nitpick is true. I mean we don’t know what the sample is and we don’t know what type of influences they had prior to the rating. Although I tend to think it’s more useful because really most people are going to fall into the average category. Of course it isn’t objective, and it certainly isn’t a solid study, but it’s generally helpful for me.

    @BigN – Hrm… That’s interesting. So what your saying is that if enough people like a show then the show is good? So really there isn’t any difference beyond the amount of people who like the show. It’s an interesting idea.

    @nckl – Thanks. Rumors of my death are largely exageratted. Hey whatever works. 🙂

  6. Goodness, nice to see a reply, thought you were gone for good.

    Anyway, I agree that you can’t define ‘good’ in a series. The fact remains that sometimes I get to the end of a show and I have that intuitive sense of it having been good. I like that feeling a lot, and it’s a big part of my favourite things.

    Mainly I think the reason that ‘goodness’ illusion matters is because it meant that I was never distracted from what was going on. If there was no moment when I ever found myself thinking ‘that’s rubbish’ then the series was (subjectively) flawless, and I was able to be totally immersed in it. There are series that I feel totally overcome what failings they have, but I’ll never love them as much as the ones whose flaws I never even noticed. The mere existence of shows like that is enough to make me place them on a pedestal – which is why, in my own head, I rate them. The ratings aren’t for other people at all, they’re just part of a hierarchy I invented for myself.

  7. @coburn – Hrm… now that’s interesting. I’m going to have to think on that 🙂

  8. My thoughts on this have remained the same for a while, so I’m probably not thinking in the context of the latest posts on the topic. That said . . .

    I don’t know. I think it’s too easy to say that objective quality doesn’t exist. It might, and I prefer to believe it does. That doesn’t mean that we necessarily can detect it, though: I like to think of rating a show as shooting on one of those fairground shooting ranges while blindfolded. I might get it right, but I’ve no sure way of telling. Others might be better at it than me – they’ve learned the order that the targets appear in, or they’re just psychic – but there’s no way I can know that, either, since I’m stuck in my own head. I try to rate things objectively (Quixotic, yes) but my MAL list is set to private partly because I don’t want to have others watching me shoot blindfolded. Can numbers encapsulate quality? Only very bluntly. Maybe I’m shooting with a blunderbuss.

    Now, I don’t watch things because they’re good, I watch them because I hope to be entertained. So I usually ignore recommendations that are based on an anime’s quality. This is why I like MAL’s recommendation forum: people usually say ‘Give me some anime like [Title X]’ or ‘Give me some anime with girls on motorbikes’, and those requests are much more easily filled than ‘give me some anime which are definitely good’. I always thought recommendations on the basis of quality are essentially the recommender seeking to have someone else validate his or her taste by coming back and saying ‘Yes, it was good’.

    . . . anyway, good to see you back.

  9. @The Animanachronism – Actually a lot of the impetus for this came after I watched “Southland Tales” and read the reviews. (Well that and a lot of reviews I’ve read on ANN.) The thing I end up seeing is people will view the same material very differently even if they’re professionals. Now I don’t necessarily think being paid for an opinion makes the opinion any better than anyone elses opinion. That said, these are people who’ve seen a lot of shows, they should have a grasp of what would make a quality show, but it doesn’t seem like they do. In fact, two different reviewers can point out the same aspect of a show (characters, plot, acting, direction) and have opposite opinions.

    I know it seems easy to say there’s no objective quality, but if people who’ve engaged in fiction of a particular medium for years (in some cases decades) can’t agree on whether a particular performance was good, then what other conclusion can you draw.

    Although I do agree with your rating scenario, I find my ratings waffling depending on how I’m feeling or what part of the show I’m thinking about. They end up more in a range then a specific number. Although, that might just be me.

  10. I didn’t imply that there was some level of objectivity which over-dominates the subjective taste, but there is a blend between how objective/subjective someone may view a title. Some people do aim for some objectivity in their ratings, sometimes viced with their subjectivity. I’d say a highly-objective rater would consider the objective value of something as 50% of the rating [leaving 50% subjective]. The upper-limit for objectivity is probably over 50%, but a rating with that much objectivity will likely be less meaningful when determining a subjective quantity, such as “good”.

    I tend to think experience, while useful, doesn’t necessarily allow people to judge a show more effectively

    True, and like you say, experience does hold is the relational history for various items, and the more comprehensive the better picture of how a person rates can be drawn. That’s the idea, a rating shouldn’t be a final instantaneous thing, but re-adjusting every rating in light of new experiences doesn’t occur on finite, point-based systems… IMO, ratings shouldn’t be partitioned away from the experience history, they should be continuously changing as the experiences amass. (which is the algorithm I linked)

  11. @ Ryan A – Now that’s an interesting idea. Eventually I’m going to write another post addressing all of this once I figure out what I want to say.

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