Criticism of the Clichés of Criticism

While checking the Aniblog Tourney participants, I found a post from Bradley, of Those Damn Cartoons, on an issue that interests me a lot. Reviews with a mocking tone, and their negative effects. In the post, Bradley describes how since MST3K, most reviewers seem to treat bad shows as nothing more than a source of jokes, and this way, we ” lose the opportunity to have other, interesting conversations about when and why anime fails to entertain, and close any dialog with folks who might have enjoyed that anime and could offer a perspective we didn’t consider, perhaps even getting us to enjoy what we disliked on a second viewing.”

This theme might also be related to a post that I wrote earlier, about how an increasingly large number of shows are being written off as “so bad it’s good” or as “a guilty pleasure” by the fandom: That there might be a negative feedback loop starting with a few dismissive reactions about how bad a show is, continuing with more and more conformist posters with no firm opinions jumping on the bandwagon, and claiming that they didn’t honestly enjoy it anyways, they are just  here for the “trainwreck in slow motion”, so with that excuse, they can keep watching the show, while also joining the meme factory, and mocking the show together with everyone else.

After all, it’s important to remember, that blogs, and other anime reviews, are not floating in empty space, they are connected to the entire fandom. Anime reviewers are not a distant, dignified breed of anime fans. They are on the same Internet as us, they are the blog post commenters, the forum posters, the imageboard users, the youtube commenters,  around us.  They have more time on their hands, and use more words, but they aren’t necessarily opinion leaders. Often, they are just reflecting opinions from the bottom, from a random Anonymous comment on 4chan, or a thread in the minor forum that they frequent.

The problem with that, is that on these kind of sites, people are not trying to be right. Their entire structure is designed in favor of the loudest, catchiest, quickest, funniest jab winning the thread, as a thought-terminating cliché. That’s why memes are coming from these places.   Most of these mocking reviews, are nothing more than memes, either. Twisted show names, character nicknames, a single QUALITY screenshot, a chart comparing two shows to each other to portray the latter as a ripoff, an intentionally misleading one-sentence summary, things like that.

But the most ironic thing about these mocking reviews, that while one of their main complaint against any given anime is how uninspired, generic, cliché it is, their own content also tends to be ridiculously formulatic. Not just “unfunny”, (of course it’s expected that 90% of things fail at their goal), but noticeably uninspired to the extent that save for a few sentences, they are interchargible with each other. Here are a few basic formats. See if you remember reading any of them in the past seasons:

The Sarcastic Review

This one is the most evident: Saying the opposite of truth is more entertaining, than just saying the plain old truth, right? You need to surprise the readers, and surely, everyone knows that the show you are about to review is bad, so a plain old “this show is bad” statement would be predctable and boring. So how about spicing it up by starting with “this show is good”? That will surely get their attention! and it will even make you sound wittier, by showing everyone  that you are thinking on an entirely different level than everyone else.

Of course, there is a danger that the readers will actually take your post at facevalue. To decrease that risk, you must really obviously exaggerate your result. So, for example if you are writing about an ecchi comedy show, that you found unfunny and unsexy, it’s not enough to sarcastically call it funny and sexy. Instead, praise  it for it’s deep philosophical message, for it’s visual symbolism, and for it’s epic worldbuilding. Unfortunately, this will decrease your post’s descriptive value, since even after reversing the sarcasm, all it tells about the show itself is that “it’s not really a deep philosophical story, not an abstract metaphorical story, and not an epic fantasy”. But hopefully the readers will be so amused by the part where you compare the Tsundere childhood friend to various iconic 19th century literary figures, that they won’t notice this.

The “Oh, Japan!” review

This one is based on the old “Japan is weird” meme, and it can be used on any anime that has a distinctively Japanese genre, or execution. The goal is to portray the show in question as an outlandishly weird. Just like you can use the argumentum ad lapidem fallacy to claim that someone’s statement is wrong because it sounds absurd, you can use this to claim that any show that sounds weird, is automatically a bad show, and should be a subject to ridicule.

It’s a bit tricky to pull off, because most readers already saw enough anime to accept these weird ones as legitimate genres with a well-established tradition, so you must sound like a naive newcomer who is genuinely baffled by them.   “They are guns? And they are somehow also schoolgirls? Oh, hahaha, that’s so random! Who else would have considered portraying something that is not a schoolgirl, in the appearance of a schoolgirl?!.

Pandering!

Accuse the show of pandering to the anime-viewing audience, and of being a wish-fulfillment fantasy. You will have an easy job, since anime tends to be aimed at people who watch anime, so creators tend to make anime that is appealing to them. And that’s all right, as long as the show that they made is actually appealing to you. But God save their souls, if you catch them trying to do it with a show that still ends up being less appealing!   With these terms, “pandering” and “wish-fulfillment”, you can always conjure the image that you are inherently offended at the idea that anime might be tailor-made  for it’s audience, instead of having to explain exactly what made this specific anime fail at the job.

If you want to discuss the good ones, that succeeded at it, replace it for terms like “I could identify with it”, or “It is accessible”, or just start telling anecdotes from your childhood that it brought up to the surface.

 

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4 responses to “Criticism of the Clichés of Criticism

  1. Heh, I’m no good at writing the kinds of posts you described here: I guess I’m too honest a person and too serious about anime to write a Sarcastic Review, and I’m too familiar with Japan for an “Oh, Japan” Review. I might call an anime out on pandering though depending on how much of it there is. I can be critical in my reviews, but I’ll just say exactly what I feel is wrong and why – no sarcasm, no trolling. I’ve never thought of myself as a funny person, in writing or in real life, so I prefer to keep up my serious, honest writing style and leave the funny, sarcastic posts to more humorous bloggers.

    • Yeah, I’m not trying to be funny either, even when I’m writing these random thoughts, or reviews.

      Ironically, this post of all things, and especially the part about sarcasm, still ended up sounding somehow sarcastic.

  2. The funny thing about “cliches” is that, for brand new viewers, they won’t recognize it as a cliche unless they are inherently familiar with the overall medium somehow. I think that’s rather telling of a particular flaw to simply critiquing an anime as being “cliche”.

    Criticism should be dealt out in a way that has supporting evidence and statements that are inherently visible in the series, and the observer’s reasoning behind the statements are clearly stated. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with criticism that is dealt out, if there is a reasoning behind it, you can at least walk away with the understanding that there are other opinions out there.

    I will admit that I have been guilty at times of critiquing anime in a manner as you’ve described, yet I do also try to strive and provide some more objective reasoning behind my criticisms. Unfortunately, authors and writers don’t ever make a good judge of their own words, so I can’t exactly claim I’ve been successful. But I guess recognizing the inherent flaw to “cliche criticism” is the first step to try and account for it.

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