Opinions vs. Absolutes in Anime Reviews

This is a carry-over discussion from my comments section on the Unrepresentative Studio Screw-ups post.

The word ‘good’ gets thrown around a lot in anime discussion, and in conjoint with various aspects of what most consider to matter in an anime. ‘Good animation’ or ‘good characters’ or ‘good directing’. Good is always taken to have an objective meaning (I won’t get too deep into that, though, since I’m sure I have too many times on this blog.) However, some of these things are totally up to opinion, while others aren’t. I’d like to explore what things should and shouldn’t be personal considerations.

I’m going to do this as a list where each category is either ‘opinion’ or ‘absolute’. I’m going to try and cover all the things that people usually bring up from my extended experience with anime reviews.

1. Story – Opinion

Probably the worst thing to objectify is the story. Stories aren’t meant to appeal to everyone, or else we’d never get any damn variety. Just because you think a story about girls who transform from cans is stupid doesn’t mean the next guy thinks it’s anything less than total fuckwin. There is really no way at all to objectify plot – even if the plot is confusing or makes no sense, there are people who like it that way, as can be seen in shows like Serial Experiments Lain being popular. Even a lack of story or a story that has been used before is not a bad thing. I was rather pissed earlier when I saw all the MAL reviews bitching that Godannar was all fighting and little plot when that just means it’s aimed at an audience who likes those things.

2. Animation – Absolute

A lot of people get confused about what ‘animation’ means. It does NOT mean ‘art’. A show can have great art and shitty animation (see: Gilgamesh). Animation quality is generally defined by two things – fluidity/frame rate and sensibility. It pretty much goes as follows – if the movement looks clean and the show isn’t just a bunch of pans, still images, and talking heads, then it’s got good fluidity. If the backgrounds are structurally correct and angular shots look right, there’s good sensibility.

Toradora is a show with excellent animation because there is a lot of movement with characters always staying on-model, lots of angular shots done well, and tons of beautiful lighting effects. Fate/Stay Night is a show with unbearably shitty animation. It’s got problems in both departments, but the real meat of the issue is a lack of sensibility – backgrounds are drawn in structurally absurd ways (why are both floors of the house angled in different directions?!) and characters move poorly in relation to the background.

3. Art (including character design) – Opinion

This is pretty obvious – pretty means something different to different people. You can see this especially in hentai where character designs are directly proportional to enjoyment and everyone has their own taste. I’ve heard people say they don’t like Yoshitoshi ABe. Those people can burn in hell, but they are entitled to their opinion (but they better stay 10 feet from me.)

4. Directing (discluding style) – Absolute

Once again, this is something that is pretty clearly defined. A director’s job is to make sure everything comes out correctly. They have to make sure they’ve got a good-looking shot, that it flows well with the shots before and afterword, and that all the other elements are constructed correctly to make the scene. Directors have a lot of input into what makes the show good, thought they are often given too much credit by people who dont’ seem to understand what it is they do exactly. Directors like Satoshi Kon and Hayao Miyazaki are special because they actually do other jobs like writing and artwork on the films, as do other directors.

An example of great directing would be Morio Asaka‘s job on CardCaptors Sakura. Every shot is clean, spacious, and flows directly into the next one so that action is easy to follow (particularly special in a magical girl show, much less a CLAMP one) and one can get a full scope of what’s going on. An example of shitty directing would be Shin Oonuma‘s job of ef ~a tale of melodies~ where the sheer number of filters and over-stylized imagery made scenes outright confusing at times.

5. Style – Opinion

Same as art, really. You can’t really complain that a show was ‘too dark’ or ‘too trippy’ when that obviously means the show wasn’t meant for you. It’s fully possible to like a show’s style of directing even if the directing itself is bad, as is the case for me with some Shinbo shows.

6. Soundtrack – Tie

Whether or not you like the soundtrack is up to you. However, one could make an objective statement about whether or not it was placed correctly in the scenes. Actually, even that’s complex. I really hate including soundtrack in consideration of the review score.

7. Sound Effects and Voice Acting – Tie

Sound effects and voice acting are both important and both contain objective facets. It’s perfectly objectionable to decide whether an actor is not right for their role (like Aya Hirano in Hyakko) but it’s all up to the watcher whether they like the role or not. I cannot fucking stand Mamiko Noto‘s voice (except as Shimako), but many love her. I’m sure there are some who can’t stand Norio Wakamoto‘s voice. Those people can burn in hell, but they are entitled to their opinion (but they better stay 10 feet from me.) In addition, while you can make a statement about shitty sound effects, some of us might think it’s fucking awesome that the gun sounds like a goddamn cannon.

8. Character Development – Absolute

What? Yes. Character development is defined precisely by how much the character changes over the course of the series, and how much we learn about them in their time onscreen. If we get backstories, see them in action, see how events effect them, et cetera, that’s character development. So yes, it’s defined. However, some people don’t seem to realize that character development isn’t always necessary in a show. While it can always be a plus, it’s silly to actually take off points for a lack of character development since some people may not care about such things. After all, as the Animanachronism pointed out, Allenby Beardsley from G Gundam is a great character in a great show that doesn’t really get much development at all.

9. Characters – Opinion

Again, totally obvious. It’s all up to you whether you like a character or not. I’ve heard some people don’t like Kamina. Those people can burn in hell but… you get the point.

10. Writing in Terms of Sensibility – Absolute

There is such thing as ‘bad wirting’. When someone says ‘people die when they are killed’, that’s bad writing. When a plot is full of holes and paradoxes, that’s bad writing. When a character blatantly contradicts something they’ve said, that’s bad writing. When characters start randomly acting in ways that they normally wouldn’t, that’s bad writing. A good example is Gun X Sword, where in the last bunch of episodes, all of the characters abruptly adopt new personalities for the sake of conforming to the central plot.

11. Writing in Terms of Dialogue – Opinion

As much as I’d like to consider the attachment of the words ‘~de arimasu’ to the end of every sentence a flaw, there are some people who like that shit. Those people can burn- *is beaten in head*.

So, getting back to the original discussion in the comments, it is very well possible for a show to be flawed in absolute ways. I am of the opinion (lol) that if we are going to use the objective terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’, they should apply directly to those absolutes. While one can love a show that’s absolutely bad, that doesn’t make it any less bad. Therefor, no matter how many fucking people love Shana it can still be a shittacular show. I know, because even I enjoyed Shana for my own reasons, but the show was still total shit. To give you a perfectly good rundown-

1. Animation – 6/10 – The show is rife with pan shots and still frames. There are some early episodes with better animation, but it declines after that and remains wholly average. Not the worst thing on TV, but still not commendable in any way. Sense-wise, it was fine, probably, though I do remember the occasional crap-tastic shot.

2. Directing – 3.5/10 – Absolute shit. The fight scene directing was outright weak. Every fight ended up with a character surrounded by enemies yet standing there talking to someone else, or hideously paced wait times between attacks, etc. Some of the fights were nigh unwatchable for these reasons. I also had a massively hard time trying to tell what the fuck was going on during some scenes where too much was happening and the bastards were cutting between different parts of action before I had time to take in and comprehend the last. Some of the worst directing I’ve had to witness.

3. Character Development – 3/10 – The characters personalities were constantly resetting and any time they seemed to be making progress, everyone would revert back to their old selves. The whole thing with season 2 was especially bullshit, though I thought by episode 7 or so that this was some weak-ass continuity of characterization.

4. Writing in terms of sensibility – 6/10 – Nothing outright OMG terrible, but the writing was pretty fucking redundant and meaningless. Conversations that go nowhere, explanations that take too long or make no sense, etc.

Thereby, from an objective standpoint Shana fucking sucks ass.

17 thoughts on “Opinions vs. Absolutes in Anime Reviews

  1. My opinion is that all these departments belong to opinions :) For example, can you really say half the people who liked animation of Dead Leaves is wrong, while the other half right? Or if half the people who liked Shinbo’s direction is right, the other half wrong, when each style can from different assemblage with other elements (soundtrack, etc.) to connect with audience in different ways? Is there really an absolutely objective way to technically animate or direct a show? In fact, will shows like Koi Koze or Now and Then Here and There really benefit from “better” animation and art? Maybe, maybe not.

  2. Clearly just the case of opinions vs honest objective viewing.

    Directing 3.5/10
    That’s what happens when you let a shitty director like Takashi Watanabe direct a series.

    My rage for JC Staff grows stronger. I’m hoping they don’t fuck up with the 3rd season. And, FFS, for them to stay true to the novel. Stop writing shitty fanfic, JC Staff.

  3. @gaguri – you missed some points. I said style was subjective.

    @anon – takashi watanabe is insane, but he also directed the excellent Boogiepop Phantom… well almost every ep of that had it’s own director as well so maybe that was that. Slayers, though, is popular, and I liked Starship Operators a lot. Extenuating circumstances?

  4. “I said style was subjective.”

    …and then you went on to claim a director’s style was “shitty directing”. I’m sure you have a reasoned argument why it shouldn’t count as style and is just “objectively bad” (your evidence was that you were “confused”), but style is still arguably what it is. Where do you draw the line?

    It’s not possible to so easily slice and dice “this part is objective” and “this part is subjective” because it depends on the person doing the talking and the evidence they use to support their argument. Your “objective review” at the end was hardly an example of objectivity. Just saying “I liked this show but if I consider the evidence I think it’s rather bad” doesn’t automatically make it an objective discussion because we’re not all going to agree on what the “facts” are. If we agreed on the facts, what would be the point of expressing it — everyone would see those “facts” the same way! Even the “objectivity” you get when studying this sort of stuff academically is little more than the consensus of both self-proclaimed and “recognized” experts. Objectivity is really just opinion that resonates most widely with those doing analysis. There’s nothing “absolute” about it.

    Frankly, it’d be much easier for people to give up on this facade of “objectivity” and just admit that they’re no expert and it’s just an opinion. But that would require people humbling themselves and admitting that other people have equally valid points of view (even on matters they consider “facts”), and that seems pretty damn hard sometimes.

    So my opinion on your opinion is that it’s all just opinion… basically. ^^;

  5. So utilizing an objective standard derived from subjective standards is fair? I could have sworn I saw something like this in late 2002-early 2003 on a much bigger scale.

  6. @21stcenturydigitalboy

    I was referring to the style of animation/directing. Personally I don’t see how you can seperate stylistic element from animation or directing, which makes animation and direction a matter of opinion. Different style of animation and direction appeals to different people.

  7. I’m just being pragmatic in saying that there is no one standard of determining what is “good.” You cannot, therefore, create standards out of subjectivity and expect everyone to follow. Here, you began with an idea that Shana is crap, created standards by which Shana would be considered crap, and as a result concluded that Shana is crap.

    Now if you are making a point that absolutes are stupid, then I will give you some credit.

  8. What gaguri, RelentlessFlame, Lelangir and Emperor J said.



    Most people love Shinbo’s style of direction and you can barely tell what’s going on with SZS at times. Like when he decided in Goku Sayonara Zetsubou sensei to punctuate every single fucking sentence with bright white flashes.


    Chracter Development:
    I didn’t expect anything from a show that was about a fire-sword wielding loli in a dress and all sorts of strange and odd enemies. Sure, it’s not that good in terms of chracter development, but hey at the very least by the end of the series Yuuji went from a complete whimp to Blutsauger pwnage.

    Writing in terms of sensibility:
    The show does have a penchant for waffling on but I thought it was relatively easy to understand what was going on.

    Shana’s not perfect but it’s not nearly as terrible as you make it out to be.

    Trouble is, even with all this I could say that Kanokon sucks ass for every reason you just mentioned.

  9. now, let me prove you wrong

    1. your choice for animation had looped footage within 5 seconds, nice try.

    2. I said already STYLE IS OPINION, what Shinbo does is NOT great directing, but people like it for style reasons.

    3. Kanokon has incredibly good animation, both in terms of fluidity and sensibility. It’s animation is easily as good as Toreadora’s.

    4. Kanokon is incredibly well-directed, which is most of why I love it.

    5. Character development, while objective, I already said has no bearing on a score when it is lacking, even if I provided it for shana

    6. Kanokon may have stupid writing, btu only in terms of dialog. It’s never confusing, and the characters are consistent

    so yes, you’ve made no fucking point at all.

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