You must have noticed -if you’ve taken a look at our review section- that we don’t use any kind of scale for rating. This can be explained by two things: firstly, we rarely write negative reviews, so almost anything you’ll find here is recommended; and secondly because I don’t trust numbers much.
Let me explain. I understand that numbers can be a very practical tool to give short impressions. Yet they also create fallacies about their objectivity. Last year, almost around this time, when there was a blog carnival going on about how miscellaneous bloggers rate their anime, it was shown that even those who try to rate with ‘their head’ don’t have a stable and concrete evaluation template -with the exception of Snippet Tee.
Consider these questions: do numbers stay with you? I mean, are they a way to remember a certain series? Do you always watch taking them as a guidance? Can you really measure something intagible like love and excitement? Can you tell exactly the difference between 84 and 85/100 or between 7 and 8/10?
Words do the job better; and I talk about a full discription, not just single words. You can’t really get a short cut to it. You might hurry to delete some anime on your planned-to-watch list and need a quick way to do this due to its dreaded length. A grade will encourage or discourage you, but you don’t know the reason why behind the rating the blogger gave. And unless you know him/her and his/her tastes very well, you’ll most probably be in for big disappointment or remorse.
And now let’s talk about what I review in our blog and what criteria I use.
Before writing a review, in order to decide if my time’s worth it, I ask myself the question “will it remain in the external disk?” It’s a general but important question related to my limited space and badget. Since I’ve started working, this question may turn into “will I buy it?” I’m an anime and manga fan, but my hobbies can’t get priority over other needs I have. I won’t waste money on something, unless I absolutely want it, adore it and I deem it necessary to praize the anime studio/mangaka for the wonderful work they produced.
Of course, before these questions arise, the anime/manga should have been in my radar and should have passed as a choice in my to-watch list. The decision is made based on cross-referenced summaries and reviews by sites like Anime News Network and others, friend recommendations, and for anime it is based on the season preview poster and trailers, too. Lately, I also give more anime the 3-episode try and if I’m not satisfied, I simply drop them.
How do I choose? These 6 factors play a big role: a. design, b.genre, category, themes, c. plot and storytelling, d. message, empathy and later conclusion, e. characters and their development, and f. animation, music / layout. Let’s take them one by one.
a. Character and background design
When I spot beautiful character design or background art, I just melt. I have a weak spot for anything aesthetically pleasing. For me, this usually means cloud porn, flowers, lighting, watercolor effects and surrealistic imageries, and/or detailed facial features like ‘actual’ lips and depth of eyes.That doesn’t mean that I avoid simpler character designs. Actually, they are often used in great (seinen) slice-of-life.
In the past I would disregard any poster that had ‘moe’ art, but the last two years I’ve come to appreciate certain moe designs; plus they often demonstrate great fashion sense. What I almost always reject are anime with huge boobs, pantyshots and lolis. It not only relates to my visual pet peeves but it also has to do with certain types of anime, about which I’ll talk next.
The manga I pick up and review are characterized by almost the same features. I have an affinity for multiple layers of screentones and details which give both the characters and the environment a plastic quality. I also love texture; anything that looks like sketch or drawings made out of carcoal and ink, be it delicate lines or bold ones. Old school design has its own charm, meaning I’d plunge into such a series with delight, if it also has an interesting story to tell.
b. Category, genre and theme
One of these days I shall write an anime/manga guide, where I get these things straight, because there’s obviously a lot of talking about them without proper categorization. I don’t mention here demographics because I don’t care much, if it’s shoujo, shounen, josei or seinen- though as I grow older I have noticed that I’m interested more in stories that happen to belong to the last two demographics. It’s more likely that I watch a daily life work than one that is fantasy, and as far as genres are concerned it’s slice-of-life, drama and romance of all kinds (het, yuri, yaoi) for me. I like comedies, too, of course, but it’s harder to find the right one; I’m picky with what makes me laugh. Gag humor fails on me. Favorite themes are travels, shops, and yokai. Mecha and ecchi stuff are a no-no.
c. Plot and storytelling
I seek something original or simply something I haven’t tried before within the genres I like of course. Even if the plot isn’t something new, like person A meets person B and they fall in love, I don’t mind as long as the storytelling is sensitive and realistic without necessarily losing the doki doki magic. These things can be judged superficially from a list, a summary, a trailer and a 3-episodes try, but from here onwards these criteria refer to a completed series that might be presented in a post.
Storytelling can be judged only throughout the series till the end, after all. How a series builds dialogue and situations, how it structures its material in arcs with cohesion and/or coherence and how everything leads to a finale play a big role in the quality and naturally in the enjoyment of the work.
d. Message, empathy and later conclusion
In case the story is bad written, I can forgive it under the condition the message is clear, the end of the story is strong emotionally -yet not done in an extravagant way- and the fact I can empathize/identify with circumstances. I don’t mind some questions being left open, unless they are pretty basic or simply too many. A dramatic end is ok, even desired on occassion, yet I dislike with passion melodrama that makes my stomache hurt from the laughs or violence for the sake of violence. And well, since I’m a human being I’ll be partial with ideas I find disgusting, overly romanticized or twisted, eg. love=sacrifice. Sympathy and identification can’t really be discussed without the next factor, which is characters.
e. Character and character development
A character shouldn’t always be gallant and a hero to be likeable. (S)He can be anti-hero without being a total jerk. An intriguing character can also be someone who’s miserable without being a loser; (s)he can have traits you hate, for example, only because you share the same flaws. I don’t like neither too ‘pure’ and lawfully good characters nor evil to the bone caricatures. The past and the present/future should look different; an intentional behavioral fluctuation isn’t bad either. It’s always a big plus when the character interactions are meaningful and come naturally, and it’s even more amazing with an extended cast, when done properly.
f. Animation and music / layout
Lastly, despite the fact that a good soundrack may enchant me, it won’t save the day. The same goes for animation. Yes, there are series where music and animation can’t be separated from what makes the anime exciting and of high quality. Generally, though I’m willing to forget a simplistic or even dull theme for a series with great characters and/or storytelling, but not the opposite. Animation though is critical for the medium (anime) and it can be a reason to drop a series, if it feels akward and stale (lots of talking with almost no animation for a scene).
In manga, where no sounds or motion exist, layouts try to make up for this lack. A good layout is like a stealth: it does its job without being very observable. It directs the reading, defines time and atmosphere and smoothly drives the story forward. An excellent layout will be impressive and give a certain character to the story. On the other hand a bad layout is noticeable in a very negative way, since you will feel like things are too hectic or shoved down your throat.
So now you have an idea of why certain series make it here and others not (though some will appear in the future hopefully), and what you can expect from us. It’s me that usually chooses what we’ll watch together, but Neko-kun watches and reads some things on his own, too; mostly ecchi and violent (macho) stuff or anything Go-Nagai related.