Taking the Critique-al Approach to Reviewing Anime

As a writer, I’ve been through the process of receiving feedback from other individuals who read my works in progress. Likewise, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with giving feedback to other writers as well, particularly those who I know fairly well (or at least, as well as one could know on the Internet). Reviewing other people’s works requires a particular brand of constructive criticism. For works in progress, the whole point of editing and critiquing is to provide input for the purpose of making a work better than it currently is. Explaining to a writer what works and what requires more work is a fickle process; if the feedback is too overwhelming in pointing out faults, then it might be detrimental to a writer’s motivation going forward, but if the feedback is too positive, it doesn’t give the writer much to work and improve upon.

However, this applies mostly to works in progress. When something is already completed or already packaged for commercial consumption, there is no more room for improvement. The material presented is final, and there is no opportunity to change it any further. Critics ultimately are the final word on a piece of work, and there is no longer any need to provide that balanced approach to critical analysis. As a result, we see tendencies from critics to be much harsher or overly fanboyish than they are.

However, I still see finished works as an opportunity to see how something can be improved even further. From the perspective of a writer, one has to make as many revisions and re-writes as necessary until the work personally feels “just right.” As the author of a work, the process of reaching that “just right” point is as lot easier than finding the theoretical “just right” of another person’s work. From the perspective of an outside reviewer, we assume that the original creator of the work has reached that point.

Regardless of whether or not the original creator of the work feels that their product is truly finished, I tend to feel that the work isn’t “just right” with me. I think it is because of my outside perspective on the piece that I’m reviewing. I wasn’t there during the revision process, and somehow I’m inclined to go from the very beginning; from my perspective, I look at works as if they were my own. As a result, seeing/reviewing something for the first time feels like I’m critiquing a first draft.

As such, my approach to gauging my reactions and feelings towards a show is that of a critique. I strip off this concept of a finished work, and assume that there is still opportunity to make the work “better,” if necessary. In the context of anime, I look at a series, and look at it the way an editor would with a draft. I look at the big picture. I look at structure. I look at flow and beats. I look at tone. I look at themes.

Most importantly, by taking this critique approach to reviewing anime, I end up enjoying the anime more, even the ones that are panned. Some shows may be remarkably bad, but there is enjoyment in finding things to like about it, and finding ways to make it better. Such shows are an exercise in developing a better understanding of what makes for good writing, and what it takes to make the jump from terrible and amateur to “potentially good.”

I learn a lot about writing whenever I help others become better writers. Even when my feedback for a particular show will never be realized, I can still gain experience by taking this approach to works that don’t require critique. By critiquing anyway, I look at what makes it work, and understand the underlying elements and mechanics that make a piece more enjoyable.

If I can benefit from a show like Fractale, then my generally negative reaction to the show will not be a total waste. Just don’t expect a fix fic from me anytime soon.

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9 thoughts on “Taking the Critique-al Approach to Reviewing Anime”

  1. Problems and solutions. Many critics propose problems in a work, few offer solutions or alterations. This is completely off the subject of fiction, but it’s the same with politics and the lack of solutions is why I usually stray away from political discussions; all the critics are rehashing problems and never offering solutions. If we practicing propose solutions with fiction, I think it also works as an exercise in noticing problems.

    1. I have a feeling that the reason why critics only make observations (positive or negative) is because of their relationships with the creators themselves compared to the relationship between an editor and a creator. The key here is that the editor and author work together to bring a piece of work to its finalized state. There’s a back and forth communication between the two individuals, and they have a relationship with each other that works towards a common goal. Critics and authors have a different relationship. Critics deal with the finished product, and have no real investment into making the work better (because it’s already finished, so there’s no point). What results is that Critics end up with the final word.

      It’s interesting to note, however, there is still room for authors and creators to respond to criticism. Maybe in the next book, the author will take an adjusted approach based on whatever criticism he or she deems fit for improvement. In the case of games, DLC and update patches are quick fixes to universal criticism (*cough*mass effect*cough*).

  2. Way back when, Archaeon of MyAnimeList shared some reviewing tips with me. I know many people will disagree with me when I say he’s a brilliant critic, but screw them. I just thought this would be an apt place to post them, seeing as how aspiring reviewers and critics might be reading this…it is a tangent of the topic discussed here, but doesn’t come perfectly within the scope of what I interpreted this post. But anyway, here’s a direct copy-paste:

    The thing you have to remember is this – people won’t do what you want if you give them an option not to. Part of a writer’s skillset is the ability to get people reading their work, and it’s something that the majority of amateurs can’t seem to grasp, regardless of the style or content of their written work.

    There are two main reasons for this, the first being their own ego. Many amateur writers who have the desire to turn professional will ultimately fail because they lack any form of valid criticism during the formation of their skills, with most relying on “friends” to give them an unbiased report on their shortcomings. This will rarely happen as it takes a lot more courage to tell a friend that they’re wrong, have made mistakes, or are not as good as they think than it does to punch said friend in the face, and most people don’t have it in them to “ruin” a relationship over something they probably consider fairly trivial.

    Because of this many amateurs become unable to accept real criticism of their work, and will usually go through “it’s not fair”, “they don’t know what they’re talking about”, “when I’m famous they’ll eat their words” and other such scenarios. Eventually they burn themselves out without realizing it, and once that creativity has dried up, they won’t come back unless they have what alcoholics call “a moment of clarity”.

    Creative writers really suffer from this content issue as quite often their works are nothing more than angst ridden fantasies that are simply variations on a theme from their favorite author/book/show/song/etc. Reviewers also suffer from it though, as the penchant with amateur writers is to simply note down whatever they want to say, no matter how random or stupid. They rarely research anything, and those that do fail to take into account things that lie outside of the area they’re reviewing.

    There are far too many people who will write exceptional reviews for titles they really enjoyed, but when it comes to things they didn’t like their skill go out of the window, which results in diatribe and verbal diarrhea. You can only really see how good a critic you are when you review something bad or that you hate, which is why I suggested you give it a try. It doesn’t have to be publishable, and can be treated as a training exercise if you want. The reason is because the best critics can always find the silver lining, no matter how small, and it shows that not only are they paying attention, but they’re also aware of it in the comparitive sense and are actively making connections between that title and other things.

    At the end of the day, writing is something you can only really get better at by actually writing, but what, how and why all come into play at that point. The one thing I would advise is this, go out and see the world, the shape of it, the taste of it, the feel of it – and surprisingly this is something you can start by simply going into the garden, having a poke around, and asking questions. Knowing what’s right under your nose and being able to connect it to something else is one of the first steps to becoming a good writer.

    I sure hope he doesn’t mind me pasting this… I just read this message of his which I’ve saved from time to time. I find it really cool.

    1. It’s actually a really fantastic read, and I can immediately get a feeling that this Archaeon person is very knowledgeable when it comes to critical analysis. Just want to expand on a few points based on what I read:

      – the role of an editor is to point out the flaws in people’s work within the context of wanting to make those works better. The “silver lining” that Archaeon points out is pretty much the bread and butter that editors are paid to straddle. They *want* to see the author resubmit a second draft and see the mistakes corrected, or even at the very least approached differently.

      – the reason why amateur wannabe writers remain as such for their entire lives is for the same reasons that other amateur artists or even amateur athletes never make it to the next level: they don’t recognize that they are capable of improving through work and determination. They feel that they’re already at their ceiling, and that this particular ceiling is sufficient to succeed. It’s a very dangerous mindset, and always results in disappointment.

      – there’s another aspect to amateurism that I want to touch upon. There are those who remain at a certain level and are completely content to stay that way. They do what they do because they just love doing it. What happens here is that they just keep doing it, and eventually improve through repetition, practice, and a reasonable grasp at their own skill levels. They’re constantly learning because they love what they do. It’s no surprise that such individuals make it through to the next level more naturally than those who have those egos.

      – it’s the combination of passion for craft as well as determination to improve that eventually results in the growth of someone with regards to a hobby.

      1. I’m actually quite intrigued now, this being brought to my attention. It certainly feels quite meta. Reviewing the reviewers, eh? I think we need to go deeper.

  3. My problem with writing a critique that provides constructive criticism is who the fuck involved with anime will ever read it. I’m some blogger who doesn’t even write in their language. But I suppose if your reasoning is that you enjoy the anime more that way, then that’s a good enough reason to provide it I guess

    1. I made that particular point with Ryan just prior to your comment. I did note that there isn’t really any relationship between the critic and the creator, as opposed to the relationship between the editor and the creator. I do benefit from anime by reviewing it in this sense, but I do it moreso for the purpose of being better at writing in general, rather than to build some sort of following as a critic. I actually don’t see myself as a critic anyway, so whatever observations that I write is mostly for myself anyway. This blog is simply an outlet for me to share those observations with people who may be interested in anime, writing, or even both.

      I actually don’t specifically advocate one form of criticism over the other, since in those cases, it mostly comes down to whether or not I like the writing, which is completely dependent on how favourably or unfavourably the author talks about his or her subject matter.

      1. I’m going to follow-up on this response as I was musing about it this morning on twitter. While it is true that the original creator is hardly ever involved in external criticism, but the critic’s audience is. There are aspiring creators in the audience, and personally speaking, being one of them, I find it hard to benefit from being there. Maybe criticism isn’t intended for them, but there’s a huge opportunity to appeal to that sort of audience.

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