Reflections: Reviewing the stuff you hate

You are getting this post because I didn’t like the post I planned to put up this week. It veered a bit too personal, and I wasn’t really comfortable with that.

So instead, I’m going to talk about opinions.

A couple of weeks or so ago, Yomu put up a writing prompt that asked an interesting question: Is there any merit to reviewing anime of a genre you actively dislike?

My short answer to that question is, “Yes.”

That’s it. I’m done with the post. Thanks, everyone. Don’t forget to turn out the lights on your way out.

Flawless Victory!

Oh, you’re still here. Well, of course, you are. You didn’t think I was just going to stop after one word, did you?

Over the past 20 years of reading reviews and considering writing, I’ve put a lot of thought into what I want from reviews. What I and others should expect from reviews and what the fundamental purpose of a review is.

Just to do some table-cleaning, I don’t believe an “objective” review exists. All reviews are matters of opinion. Even though it is a tautology, it needs to be said that all matters of opinion are matters of opinion. Just by definition, something that is subjective can’t be objective. Words don’t work like that.

This doesn’t mean that a review can’t be informative or fair, just that in the end, it’s always going to be someone’s thoughts on a property.

Also, I don’t write reviews. I may write an analysis or my opinions about shows. But for reasons I state down below, I don’t think I’ve ever really written a review on this site.

And I do believe the merit is reviewing something from a genre you don’t like, but to get there, we’re probably going to need to lay down some foundation.

And as always, the normal disclaimers apply. I’m just a schlub on the internet. Your mileage may vary.

What do I want from a review?

I stopped reading ANN reviews a little more than 10 years ago because they refused to stop using the word “derivative.” 

To be fair, it wasn’t just ANN. The word had spread throughout reviews, and reviewers like a bad case of syphilis. I couldn’t turn on a podcast without hearing some recently minted reviewer turn out that word like their art school degree depended on it. And it soured me on reviews and reviewing for a while. 

Why is that? Well, it’s simple. Saying something is derivative doesn’t help me understand whether I will like something. There are plenty of shows with derivative characters that are quality shows (see Cowboy Beebop). And there are plenty of shows with wholly unique characters that just fall flat. 

It tells me that the reviewer saw some other problem, chalked it up to being derivative, and never spent the time exploring it in any depth. 

It frustrated me because what I want from a review is to know whether I will like a show. 

Now, this may seem counter-intuitive. And there is an entire school of thought in reviewing that the writer is trying to entertain the audience by explaining how he or she felt about the piece. 

They are trying to have a conversation with the audience. For instance, take a look at this review from Entertainment Weekly that starts with a warning for spoilers. 

The review starts by warning you that you should have already seen the show before reading the review. 

This is just an opinion piece lurking as a review. It can be helpful if you consider it that way, but I don’t think it’s useful.

What I want from a review is to understand what makes a show good, what makes a show bad, and how it fits together. 

One of the masters of this was the late, great Roger Ebert. I would go to his reviews to find out what the show was about and whether he felt it worked. They tend to look more at the story’s individual elements rather than the reviewer’s gut reaction. 

To be honest, they’re less likely to tell you that a piece of the story is derivative and tell you why it’s derivative.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want an opinion. I’m just asking for a measured and thoughtful opinion. 

If I want hot takes afterward, I can seek that out, but if I’m trying to decide if I am going to like something, I don’t really care how this show made the reviewer think about their mother. 

This is also why I don’t believe that I write reviews. The material I put up on this blog are only my reactions to shows. I’m not trying to cultivate an audience and inform them about what they’ll like. 

The contradiction of reviewing

So I started this piece by saying there is no such thing as an objective review, and I also said what I want from a reviewer is to tell me how much I’m going to like a show. 

On the surface, these two thoughts contradict each other. How can a reviewer express their opinion about the quality of a show and do it in such a way that informs me about whether I will like a show? I mean beyond just providing me a measured and thoughtful opinion. 

Well, this is where the audience comes in. We have to understand that not every reviewer is for everyone. Much like not every show is for everyone, a reviewer will bring their own tastes and style to the art of reviewing. 

As audience members, we have to be educated on why we agree or disagree with a reviewer. If we’re just looking for post facto analysis, we should understand that as well.

Picking reviewers is akin to picking a hairstylist or a shoe store. You should go with the best fit. 

This is where I think people have the most significant issues. There has been a sizable contingent of people who expect reviewers’ opinions to line up with their own. They expect reviewers to forgive the same problematic elements because it’s part of the genre.

This is simply not how reviewing works. I want reviewers to give me a measured and thoughtful opinion about the show’s elements, but it’s still their opinion at the end of the day. If I don’t like it or don’t agree, it doesn’t invalidate my opinion. 

What is the merit?

So to come back around full circle to the initial question. Is there any merit in reviewing an anime in a genre you actively dislike? 

Yes, because the act of reviewing should be a combination of thinking about whether the pieces of the story work, independent of the genre, whether they work within the genre and what expectations you want your audience to have. 

Reviewing on some level should be a critical examination of the elements of a story. Is the story well-paced? Are there stakes? Do I understand what the conflict is? Are the characters’ actions logical and consistent? 

It’s not just mocking a genre you dislike. It’s understanding that you dislike a genre and deciding if it’s just the genre or if the story itself is troubled. 

Reviewing that genre gives you an understanding of what those elements are so that you can tell the difference. 

To be fair, people who really enjoy a genre might have the same hurdles they need to jump over. They may need to set aside their enthusiasm. So they understand a piece of fiction from the perspective of someone coming into it from the outside. 

Fans just have a little bit of a head start on that. 

2 thoughts on “Reflections: Reviewing the stuff you hate

  1. I mean I think considering to have “no merit” is harsh to say the least. I mean this is a bit of an interesting question to be honest I hear a lot about people being anti-negative review and even swear that they won’t write anything they dislike. I mean to each there own bad at that point you’re only doing half the job, and congrats your not critic or a reviewer you’re a cheerleader.

    For some people it’s different because they are doing more essay or analytical stuff. But I think to establish any sort of credibility you gotta show your bias and taste through your body of work. MAL or like IMDB I feel like your part of a collection of everyone’s thoughts but if you’re a critic/reviewer with a platform like a blog you got to demonstrate how you feel so people who follow you can better gauge your likes and dislikes.

    Would you trust a Yelp reviewer who only gave 5 star reviews, to me that would be worthless. I think you got to have at least some semblance of a spectrum. That said the question more alludes to judging an entire genre and watching things outside your particular tastes. It is annoying to judge a show based fully on comparisons. Comparison and genre conventions are a good way to signify good or bad elements but I see it being the say all be all as being lazy analysis for sure.

    I don’t know, I wouldn’t say that I hate superhero movies but I definitely don’t like them as much as other people do. Should I have not reviewed Justice League and made comparisons to the MCU. I don’t like to hope that those posts are completely without merit, it depends who and how it’s done at the end of the day but exploring genres even ones you seem to dislike is not inherently bad.

  2. I’ll grant that K makes some valid points. Nonetheless, I am one of those folks who only review what I like and preview what I think I’ll like. I just don’t see anything wrong with providing a bit of cheerleading when you find something you really like. As I say in the intro to my blog, every anime (manga, music album, whatever) will find its audience. It will. And it deserves to be reviewed by someone who truly appreciates it and can explain why.

    That should not, however, prevent the reviewer from discussing weaknesses or points they disliked. Discussing these “problems” only emphasizes what makes the overall product so good in spite of them. (Back when logic and debate were taught in school, one was expected to acknowledge and address the opposing side’s arguments as a way of bolstering his/her own. You strengthen your own case by incorporating opposing viewpoints.)

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