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Some Thoughts on the Nature of Review

October 31, 2003

Ideally, you want to be able to look at everything the same way, for the sake of fairness. However, not all anime is created equal - the disparity between a Ghibli film and, say, MD Geist is staggering. There is simply no way to judge some series by quite the same criteria. And let's face it - trying to treat a good children's series from the same angle as a good hentai series ... no, it don't fly.

The key thing to remember is that a review is an opinion. Yes, it's one backed up by facts, but it is still a subjective work by its very definition. It is NOT an analysis of the work - an analysis may be used as part of an review, but it in no way takes the place of a review. The same goes with a summary or synopsis.

So, what are we looking for? Well, it generally depends on a great deal of factors - audience appropriateness, genre, and feature type being fairly important among them.

For example, you don't go looking for cerebral discussion of life's mysteries when watching a children's series like Digimon. It's foolish to expect that sort of content of such a series - in that case, you want to look for entertainment value, and whether or not it will be watchable beyond its target audience. Sometimes, it isn't - think Fighting Foodons or Yu-Gi-Oh. But every so often, there's a kids show that is fine for "kids" of all ages. More often than not, it's a Ghibli movie, but I digress (and I'll talk about that more later). On the other side of the coin, there are features intended at children that don't work well as children's shows. Night on the Galactic Railroad is a great example of a movie that's too high-minded for its intended audience, and therefore only worth an average rating despite its lofty ambitions.

Another thing to consider is the genre itself. Shoujo romance dramas do not tend to have high frame rates and eye-candy action sequences - that's just a gigantic DUH. Whereas series that are ALL eye-candy tend to rely specifically on the visuals and action to work. Generally, it's considered poor form to completely dump Boys Over Flowers for lack of action, and equally poor form to give Ninja Scroll a failing grade because it doesn't have enough romance. Rate the first for its merits as a drama, rate the second for its merits as an action show, simple as that. Though there ARE caveats.

Of course, we also need to look at the feature itself. Is it a movie? Then don't expect long expository scenes and extreme character development. Is it a 13-episode or 24-episode TV series? Then don't look for things to be revealed immediately. At the same time, when a series is super-long (over 100 episodes), it should NOT take 15 episodes to explain who a character is and what the show is about - if an entire season of show fails to explain as much as the average OAV, then that should be considered a massive flaw and a liability. Yes, you know damn well I'm talking about Dragon Ball Z. At the same time, there are some films that transcend their format - think about the 25-minute Voices of a Distant Star, which tells a more poignant story and has earned vastly more critical acclaim than the 291-episode behemoth mentioned in the previous sentence. After all, if a story and its characters are not introduced properly in the first twelve hours of running time, then that story has failed. Plain as day.

Less important to some reviewers, but worth mentioning is the year in which an anime was made. For starters, do NOT expect Akira-quality footage from any series made prior to 1989. The technology simply isn't there, so Kimagure Orange Road and Touch will look old, and Aim for the Ace and Rose of Versailles will look older. But as long as the story remains good, then it's pointless to dock a series for being aged. However, a series or feature made in the 90s or after 2000 that looks like an 80s series is fair game, like The EYES of Mars.

Finally, we have to remember that not all reviewers are going to think the same way about the same thing. Expecting an 18-year-old male action fan to rate an anime the same as a mid-20s female shoujo junkie ... that's ridiculous. And insisting one or the other is inherently wrong ... just plain arrogant. So the reader is responsible for judging and accepting the bias of reviews by their authors ... because there is no such thing as an unbiased opinion. If you don't agree with the shoujo junkie, then it's pointless to get mad when she pans something you like (or raves about something you hate).

There are some basic things we look at regardless of age, format, or genre. Really, what does anyone look for in anime? Is it well-animated, or does it look like they're just shaking cels around? Is it well-designed, or could you do better with a purple Crayola marker? Are the characters likable or unlikable or (worst) bland and unmemorable? Is the voice-acting up to snuff? Is it well-written? Is there a good plot? Is the music cool or chintzy? So much goes into writing reviews, and a lot of it is almost unconscious and instinctual to those of us who have been writing reviews for a while.

But the biggest thing to remember is that reviews are still opinions -- regardless of whether the facts are the same, it is up to the reviewer where a series' positive and negative aspects balance out, or whether they will lean toward the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Does the individual nature of reviews make them useless? Hardly. In fact, if a vast array of people say something is bad when they disagree on virtually everything else, well, then, you may not want to see it.

Or then again ... you may just like it after all.

The only difference between a reviewer and any other fan is simple, really - we take our opinions, think about them, try to support them, and put them in writing. And that's IT. We are no different otherwise.

So respect those opinions like you would want us to respect your own.

That is why you're here, right?

- Carlos Ross


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