When Criticism Meets Anime Fandom – This Week in Anime


More often than not, critics take the hot seat when reviewing a work subject to the ire of its fandom when it does not align with their views. This week, our resident reviewers Chris and Lucas weigh in on what it means to approach anime works critically as reviewers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.


Gundam The Witch From Mercury, Rurouni Kenshin, Gundam Wing, King’s Game, Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, Jujutsu Kaisen, Granbelm, and Birdie Wing are streaming on Crunchyroll. Gushing Over Magical Girls is streaming on HIDIVE. Dorohedoro, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off are streaming on Netflix. Gundam Build Metaverse is streaming on YouTube, and The Critic is streaming on Tubi.


Chris

Lucas, I don’t know what we’re going to do for material for this week’s This Week. ANN’s resident Gundam expert, Lauren Orsini, was cool enough to reference a previous column of ours in the recent Gundown Rundown she did, going over her recommendations on the storied mecha franchise. And naturally, all her opinions were 100% accepted as fair with nobody getting upset or taking them too personally! So I don’t know that we can find anything to talk about!
Lucas

Man, you love to see it. Whether you call them Weebs or Otaku, anime fans are truly the fan community that is the most open to criticism and critique of their chosen media passion.

Right, that’s one lede swiftly unburied. Decidedly unsurprising, there was a bit of negative blowback from viewers who felt slighted that the Gundam guide was designed not to recognize their favored series with a recommendation. It’s a huge franchise, after all. And every entry, no matter how niche, is bound to have some defenders whose tastes don’t align with Lauren’s.



Never would’ve expected all three Gundam Build Metaverse fans to be so passionately defensive of their fave.
Yeah…a certain kind of “fan” really doesn’t like it when someone on the internet expresses that their fav isn’t worth checking out. But that being said… are there people out there who genuinely believe that a prospective Gundam fan should START by watching series entries like Mobile Suit Gundam F91, Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO, or the live-action G-Saviour? This guide was pretty clearly written for people new or unfamiliar with the Gundam franchise, so it’s smart that Lauren would steer the intended reader away from the more esoteric Gundam anime.
Aw come on, what neophyte audience wouldn’t immediately latch onto the newbie-friendly, crystal-clear storytelling of Reconguista in G?



Sarcastic as I’m being, I make that joke as someone who genuinely enjoyed G-Reco, but still agrees with the position that it’s almost impossible to recommend to anybody but a very certain stripe of strange viewer.

Let’s be real though, it’s easy to guess that the big issues were taken with the likes of Wing and Seed not getting the reccs. Those are formative favorites of many fans that served as their franchise entry points. For some people, seeing criticism of a series you so associate yourself and your fandom with can come off like a personal attack.

I’m sure Reconguista in G is a delight and a thought-provoking viewing experience… but I’ll keep recommending people to watch the one where a lil’ space baby becomes a war criminal before the first episode even happens!



And yeah, it’s bad to tie your identity to a piece of media to the point where any criticism of it feels like a criticism of you. But people keep doing it! And that’s had ripple effects in all forms of popular media criticism and fan community spaces for at least the past decade.
I’ll get it out early on that we’re coming at this subject as critics, so we’re naturally going to gravitate toward sympathy to that side of the critic/viewer divide. But that just leads to the point that there shouldn’t be a divide at all! Most critics are generally good about couching their analysis in the understanding of it being their subjective assessment (Lauren even went to great pains to do that at the beginning of her article)—just one facet to give readers an idea of what to expect and if they might, in turn, enjoy it.




Unfortunately, sometimes when you passionately enjoy something, it’s easy to mistake that subjective appreciation for objective quality. So you get a lot of audience members decrying “subjectivity” in criticism, and thinking that if writers were just “objective” without bias, surely their fave would earn the good grade it so deserves.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s low-key hilarious that this conversation is coming from us—two people who managed to turn their familiarity/appreciation for anime into a side hustle, and that we’re as prone to circling the wagons as anyone else. However… objectivity in any form of media analysis, criticism, or even consumption is a myth! That’s not how art works, and any assertion that reviewers or opinions should be “objective” is deeply reductive.

That kind of consistency is impossible, even within the facilities of a single critic. There are plenty of works that I’ve changed my mind about between my first time with them and coming back to them later on. To say nothing of the evolving feelings that come with the long-term weekly review schedule. There were plenty of anime I started out decrying when I was assigned them, only to turn around on them as time went on.



Fellow writers know: Reviewer Stockholm Syndrome is real, and it can happen to you!
Haha, you’re more positive than I am. More often than not, I find myself loving a series, only for a new plot point to hit or for the creator to do something terrible that makes me never want to recommend the series again.

cough



Kenshin

cough

I think both directions of our opinionated experiences work to illustrate a key point about critics: Contrary to the stuffy stereotypes, critics generally aren’t out to be disdainful naysayers trying to ruin everyone’s fun. We want to enjoy things. It’s why we hopped onto this hustle to begin with! Sometimes you gotta be honest, which is feeling that Gundam Wing, for all its pretty boys and ostentatious robot designs, has aged into an awkward-to-follow mess.

Do you want to watch Gundam Wing to get a sense of how the series cemented itself to general audiences in the 00s via Toonami? Go for it! If you’re engaging with this academically, then you should probably also check out the DiC dub of Sailor Moon while you’re at it. But if you want to see what all the Gundam fuss is about, or what older entries in the franchise had to offer, Wing ain’t it. Chief and I don’t think saying so should be controversial.
That’s a great point that leads into another facet of the whole idea of critically engaging with works. There are plenty of anime that might not review well but are still worth being watched, regardless. Some, like your assessment of Wing, have historical value that can be gleaned. Other times, something is just so amazingly bad that it loops back around to being genuinely entertaining.



Ideally, even if a review doesn’t 100% align with your tastes and opinions, what the critic has written should still give you enough information and context to decide if a work is something you would find worth checking out.
Ooooh~ now we’re starting to get existential about reviews, their intent, and possible social benefit! Are reviews a means to dive deep into a piece of media and figure out what makes the tik for the sake of pushing an artistic medium forward; or are they product evaluations meant to guide a reader’s time and monetary investment? More often than not, I lean towards the former. But I also haven’t covered the weekly review beat much (yet).

And that’s not even getting into how reviews are used by aggregate sites after the fact, or quoted by platforms like Wikipedia to establish a cultural consensus around a piece of media.

Oh man, don’t get me started on the misunderstandings that aggregators like RottenTomatoes can cause. And, no, I’m not just bitter because they accepted Steve in as a contributing critic but declined me. Was my stirring appraisal of Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro not cultured enough for your damned Tomatometer, you philistines?



It can be frustrating to see people presume that stuff like RT’s percentage-based “Good”https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/”Bad” binary speaks for some unanimous assessment by critics when most review writers I know would prefer not to bother with grades or scoring metrics at all!
To me, scores/grades are the genesis of many toxic mentalities members of fan communities can have towards reviews… but publications doing away with them has also had some fascinating, unintended consequences!



Publishers/publicity companies always cherry-picked review scores for promotional purposes, but now that fewer outlets are doing review scores than ever before, they’re starting to go into the weeds. Like, Sports Illustrated was a fantastic publication, but I doubt the majority of people are looking to them for game reviews. Not to mention, I don’t care what a blog called God is a Geek thinks of Hogwarts Legacy.
Much like the actual bodies of the reviews themselves, publishers are probably hoping readers will skim past the names of outlets and hone in on those big, shiny, marketable numbers. So it goes with this craft: You can type up all the words of justification your poor, beleaguered editor has to weed-whack through. But at the end of the day, there’ll still be a host of commentators who skip past all that and struggle to comprehend why a writer “only” gave Jujutsu Kaisen a 4/5 in a given week.



RIP James, he tries his damnedest.

And that raises another great point! Anime is bigger than ever, and there’s no shortage of people hyping up the biggest releases of any given season. If you only want to hear about why something you like is good, why bother being mad at people who don’t like a given episode or series as much as you do? It’s easier than ever to find someone as deep in the Kool-Aid as you are, so doesn’t it make more sense to pour that energy into engaging with that reviewer/community instead?

I can colloquially confirm that there are viewers out there under the odd assumption that critics act as some sort of arbiters of what’s popular and/or successful. So even as they do enjoy something on their own, they also hone in on the possibility that a series reviewed poorly might drive away viewership and prevent the continuation of something they like. Which is balderdash, of course. Everyone knows critics don’t have that kind of power. Lord knows if I did, I wouldn’t bother using it to get In Another World With My Smartphone canceled, I’d use it to get more people to pay attention to Stars Align or Granbelm!

Wait… you’re telling me I could have gotten a season 2 of Dorohedoro greenlight sooner if I had just been MORE vocal about how much I enjoyed it!??? I don’t think that’s how anime production works, but I’m not about to look a fantastical gift lizard man in the mouth!

We’ve been talking about fan-favorite series that attract blowback to their criticism, but this also makes me think of the opposite situation: anime that are critical smashes but seem to go unappreciated by the broader audience.

Right, it’s been a dirty secret in the anime community for a while now, and that Polygon study from awhile back proved it, but the surefire most watched anime in any given season is without fail… whatever is streaming on Netflix.

Checking out reviews from unfamiliar critics is a great way for a reader to expand their bubble and discover some cult hits or hidden gems. I know this was a topic of a previous TWIA, but JJK sweeping so much for the CRAAs suggests that not enough fans are aware of the full breadth of media that the anime medium has to offer.

This is why you’ll get a lot of critics trying to use what platforms they have to push lesser-known series. Often to no avail, since they wouldn’t be “hidden gems” if they’d successfully broken out. But this is often where you’ll find writers at their most passionate and optimistic about works, in contrast to the teardowns that attract more negative attention.

That said, this can lead to a perception that critics gravitate towards more esoteric choices to praise, compared to the crowd-pleasers that casual viewers are more likely to seek out reviews of. Even if huge mainstream-friendly Netflix hits like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off also racked up the accolades.

Ugh, I know it can come across as gatekeep-y but, if a community is already talking about what things a popular anime is doing well, what benefit does a review serve if it doesn’t at least mention the smaller things an episode/series can improve on? Reviews aren’t very useful or even interesting if they just repeat what people on your social media platform of choice are already saying.

Also, a lot of these frustrations and bad-faith conversations around reviews would go away if people broadly checked out more niche releases. Just watching the most promoted and talked about anime in a given season isn’t a great way to learn about the medium or expand your media literacy. People watching more kinds of anime and thinking more critically about them would do wonders for this community. TL;DR, we’d all be winning if everyone engaged with more anime.

Take it from someone who wound up enjoying series like Onimai after several of his fellow writers dragged it: Disagreeable reviews don’t have to speak for an ultimate opinion on an anime. Treat criticism more like guidelines than decrees, and you’ll be just fine. At the very least, please read through the reviews before you get mad about what rating we assigned. Lord knows we put a lot of effort into composing our rich, detailed analyses.

Oh man, this column was the perfect excuse to post Interspecies Reviewers screencaps and I didn’t think of it until your last message! Ah well, jokes on me.



And my only remaining advice to someone who’s ever taken umbrage with a review and expressed their views in a less-than-production fashion is… WRITE YOUR OWN REVIEW! It’s easier than ever to share your opinion on the internet via text or video, and taking the time to think about a piece of art through the lens of a review is a great way to start developing more robust opinions about that art.
I’ll always be here to share nuanced, articulated thoughts on the quality of work.



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