Why Do An Anime Review?

When every Friday newspaper throughout the United States carries information and critic's thoughts on film, the question of "why do a review?" may seem trivial. However, anime is a niche, and there is a good case for and against reviews. Let me share:

Over the past three years, I've had various help and criticism on my page. There has been a small but vocal percentage of the community that does not see anime reviews as being at all helpful. They have asked me to reconsider even having a page of this nature. Some of their points are well taken and the four most important ones are presented here.

    1. Anime, in and of itself, is a small part of the total choices available to the average consumer. By posting a negative review of a show, it further limits what the consumer sees as a good choice for viewing and lessens the impact of anime as a genre.

    2. In comparison, promoting good anime shows does nothing to hurt the genre, but instead brings the "cream of the crop" to the forefront.

    3. Discussing the earliest reviews I had posted, the statement was made that my reviews tended to agree with the typical consensus and thus did not significantly add to the forum.

    4. The majority of anime consumers are not interested in anime reviews. What they purchase is based on their friends' opinions and their personal interests. Thereby, someone who likes, say, horror films will probably purchase those titles consistently, regardless of what reviewers say.

These are all true to some extent. Certainly, number 2 is right on the money, and the others make some basic points that should be considered. However, I believe that there needs to be a rebuttal.

The first point is by far the most important and requires the most detailed discussion. Anime is at best considered a niche genre. Sales figures released by such companies as AnimEigo go far to show this as true. Disparaging any anime does reduce its sales figures, which can make a company less likely to import more anime in the future. However, I believe that it is not only in the interest of anime that we do fair, impartial reviews, but that it is essential to the survival of the genre as it exists in America.

Why is this the case? I will use an example from my personal experience. Back in 1992, a theater about 20 minutes from my home showed Fist of the North Star and Akira on alternating nights for one week only. I convinced a friend who had only the most basic, casual interest in anime to go with me to Fist that Tuesday, having never seen it myself. Having read the hype in magazines up to that point, I was unfortunately surprised and disappointed by the end result. Fist of the North Star is definitely popular for what it is, but the dub version of the film is laughable from its ridiculous violence all the way down to its atrocious voice acting. I apologized to my friend and assured him that this was NOT what had made the raging fan I had become. I very nearly didn't get him to go to Akira the next night due to his reaction to the movie. It was only by my assurances that I had seen the film and that it was spectacular did he attend. He loved it. Since then, he's been a fan and he's bought several anime types since that point.

What's the point? Quite simply, anime is seen as a niche all to itself. Most people do not afford it the same leeway that they would to the typical Hollywood production. Most people wouldn't avoid all comedy films just because they saw one and hated it. This isn't necessarily the case in anime. Thus, it is vitally important that the viewer know what to expect, within reason. It is more than likely that a viewer who sees one or two bad anime without seeing some reasonably good shows will reject the genre entirely. This is where the review comes in.

A proper review does more than simply provide an opinion, even in capsule form. A review should first give a sense of what the feature is about. Is it a drama, comedy, or adventure? Who are the main characters? What is the plot as revealed in the opening minutes of the movie (making sure not to spoil anything for the viewer)? Once the groundwork is down, the opinion of the anime comes into play. It should go beyond a simple "hate it/love it", but give some explanation why it ranks the way it does. (Some of my old capsule reviews try to do this, albeit briefly; whether or not they succeed is in the opinion of the reader, I suppose.) From there, the reader can make a reasonable decision. If they can find fault with the logic of the review, then they shouldn't take it at its value. No one agrees all the time, but knowing you can trust a reviewer's opinion consistently can lead to your enjoyment of a whole lot of films you wouldn't necessarily try otherwise.

The review itself is very important. I have visited sites that don't give anything below a B- (or the equivalent) as a rating. To me, this is beyond unacceptable. Showing that a fair review is important, it is going to be a fact that some shows are going to reek, in the viewer's opinion. Putting a bias to it ("you might like this if you like X") is fine as long as it doesn't affect the reviewer's final rating. The PC movement has made people feel that it isn't right to judge someone else's works on their artistic merit. This is just hogwash if a reviewer has a strong background in the genre and they can reasonably give cause for their viewpoint. Their opinion is valid and vital. I would rather go into a show expecting to hate it and coming out surprisingly satisfied rather than going in with high hopes that get dashed by something mediocre.

As to the other points:

On building a fan site for good shows: it is true that a fan site publicizing and praising a feature may have far more impact than a Web-based review. This is a great way for a fan to show others why they really get into their favorite program. However, I have neither the time nor the interest to do such a website. Most of the shows that I really enjoy already have sites that far surpass what I could do in my limited free time. Furthermore, there are legal issues that get involved when a site has a lot of copyrighted material on it, and I just won't go there. I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in a show, however, to go this route to support their cause.

On agreeing to the consensus: perhaps I have shown a predilection for certain types of shows that other anime reviews also like. It is obvious that the best anime is going to surface, regardless of who reviews it. However, as most people will recognize, my site carries a large number of reviews on shows that are not yet available in the States, which makes it useful to the collector who wishes to grow their collection beyond the mainstream. Secondly, with the death of anime clubs as we knew them 10-15 years ago, which I hope to discuss later in another editorial, most people with an interest in anime don't have a place to turn to even get opinions on what shows are better than others. The need for varying opinions is important, and I believe that by offering a wide variety to the titles I review, that need is met.

Finally, on the customer's lack of interest in reviews: that's fine. I have frequently gone to films that reviewers have massacred because I was interested in the stars, the plots, etc. I still have a little place in my heart for Flash Gordon, The Black Hole, and Howard the Duck. Nevertheless, I read plenty of emails from people who state, "I wish I hadn't wasted my $25 on this garbage." At least reviews exist to give a baseline for comparison. What people do with it from there is their choice.

Perhaps this is a ridiculously long dissertation on a relatively unimportant subject. However, I think it is important to understand where we are coming from as an anime community. The world of anime fandom is expanding in ways many of us thought impossible 10 years ago, but look where we are! There is room for a variety of viewpoints, opinions, and takes on the shows we all have come to consider great cinema (and great television). I hope that the Anime Review helps you to make your purchases wisely and helps others to learn of the magic that is Anime.