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Art of Reviewing Anime #6: The Big Picture

by av-Kain
By now everyone here should be well versed on how to analyze the different components of an anime, from music to art to stories to characters. But before you start applying these techniques in your anime reviewing, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the whole versus the sum of its parts.

1) Anime as a whole. I once asked a fellow anime reviewer years ago what makes a great anime. He replied that possessing greatness in all the individual facets of an anime (art, animation, characters, story, etc. etc.) adds up to a great show. Obviously, on this issue we were very much in agreement.

However, after going back and forth with him on the art of reviewing anime, I suddenly came to a realization: he was inordinately intelligent, was a longtime student of anime and Japanese culture, was educated in film making and had a keen eye for detail… but he couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Another oft-used cliché is “a whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and that very much applies to anime.

Great anime can be identified by having an intangible ability to weave its individual facets into one seamless work of art. Having several world-class chefs in the same kitchen doesn’t make for a good meal unless each of those chefs knows his or her assigned role and functions together as a team. The music may be captivating and the art may be visually stunning, but unless they share a common theme and work together in unison, they end up fighting each other for the spotlight instead of sharing it like any great ensemble cast would. And in some rare cases, an anime can even transcend its mediocre components and aspire to something better. In Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!, Anno Hideaki’s masterful direction helps to compensate for a truncated story and rushed pacing, making the anime better than it should be.

2) Subjective versus objective. I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain that fine balance between subjectivity and objectivity. The critiquing aspect of anime reviewing is subjective: “The animation leaves much to be desired” and “there is an overabundance of music during scenes when silence would be preferable” are examples of opinions that have been formulated from personal tastes and experience, both as an anime fan as a human being. The big draw for the Anime Academy is that there is enough variety in the Staff’s personal tastes, life experiences and anime histories that any student can latch onto the Professor whom provides the best match when it comes to anime.

Objectivity comes into play when filtering out all the unnecessary, external influences that so want to wreak havoc on your duty to remain as professional as possible. Just because Akira brought an insurgence of interest in anime in the United States doesn’t mean it should be given any special consideration over, say, the obscure, little-watched Like the Clouds, Like the Wind. Akira’s role in anime history in the West came about because it happened to be the right type of movie created at the right time and benefited from heavy advertising from Streamline Pictures and later Pioneer (now Geneon Entertainment). Its resulting popularity and status as a watershed anime are not traits inherent in the anime itself; therefore, they should not be a factor in reviewing anime. Mentioning it in the body of the review itself is perfectly fine. Reviewers wear many hats, one of which is as a teacher. It’s important that the reader be made aware of such information so that he or she can have a proper perspective and appreciation for the history of anime.

Another erroneously-used factor I see in many anime reviews outside of the Anime Academy is Japanese box office figures. This may come as a surprise to some people, but not every Japanese person is an authority on what is and is not good anime. Hell, most Japanese people aren’t even anime fans. Every time I read something to the effect of “well, the Japanese liked it, therefore, it must be good!”, it only serves to invalidate every other argument that reviewer comes up with. For those that disagree, think about it for a second: mainstream pop music superstars in the United States sell out concerts and CDs in droves. Does that mean they are the most musically talented? Martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme’s live-action movie Street Fighter grossed $33 million in the United States. Critically-acclaimed ensemble masterpiece Glengarry Glen Ross raked in $10 million. Is Street Fighter then three times better than Glengarry Glen Ross? There has never been a direct correlation between popularity and quality, so don’t let the numbers game cloud your judgment.

Like anime itself, the art of reviewing anime is indeed an art form. And like any art, the ability to master it takes time, practice… and just a smidgen of talent. The Anime Academy Staff has now provided you the tools you’ll need; whether you apply them or not is up to you.


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