Art and Aniblogging: A Non-Critical Take on Criticism

by eternal on March 2, 2009


I’m not an English major. I probably will be at some point in my life, and I have some sort of intrinsic attraction to the act of looking beneath the surface, but that’s a different point entirely. What I’m trying to say is, I’m by no means a scholar on this topic: and frankly, the use of the word “criticism” in the post title was likely enough to give more than a few of you false hope when you saw it on Anime Nano.

However, the title reflects exactly what this is: a non-critical look at the act of literary criticism, and the way we apply it in the anime blogosphere.

It all began when I decided to go archive digging, starting with the well-known Cruel Angel Theses. Owen’s background in literature, as he stated himself, greatly influences the way he looks at – and subsequently writes about – anime; and having read many of his reviews, I now have a deeper understanding for the age-old theory of “show, not tell.” Reading is (as Owen himself has been known to preach) an integral part of writing, be it criticism or fiction, and it goes without saying that an amateur would learn much from reading the works of a more experienced individual. (And this isn’t to put Owen on a pedestal, per se – he just so happened to be the first in a list of many bloggers, most of which I simply haven’t gotten to yet.)

Anyway, having read one individual’s take on story and character development in various anime, I decided to do some reading on the fundamentals of criticism, and we all know where – in the blogosphere at least – to find that. The SuperFani writers, presumably lit majors of some form or the other, are probably your best bet when it comes to criticism of criticism (save for good old lelangir who has likely written about everything by now.) You can click that link whenever your brain is up to the task, and I trust in your archive digging skills, but Cuchlann’s Adventures in Criticism proved to be quite interesting, in addition to Pontifus’s conversation on Critic vs Creator. That was only a small sampling, of course, because a quick trip out of Super Fani might net you a few other posts like this one, which are worth reading even if you have to google Axiology.

And what about the theory of literary criticism itself? Surely the aniblogosphere didn’t invent the school of thought. It’s been around for ages, and it’s arguably as important as the creation of art itself.

But I digress. With the foundations laid out and the reading material provided (if you’re in the mood for more buffet-for-thought, try this, but don’t forget to note this as mentioned by Kaiserpingvin), it’s time to delve into the meat of this post: my take on criticism.

criticism-post-1Relevant because it was found under Danbooru’s “reading” tag

In a nutshell, I suppose you could say that I support criticism. I can see myself entering the field at some point in time, and in all likelihood I’ll wind up studying it in a few years, so I have no reason to criticize (in the other, more commonly used meaning of the word) criticism.

That said, I can also understand the train of thought that excessive criticism doesn’t help anyone and hinders the enjoyment of the writer. I’ve long since believed that pure objectivity in ratings is a waste of time, since we’d all end up saying more or less the same thing, and I don’t think that anyone would benefit from the black-and-white “this is good, that is bad” outlook. However, as many writers even in our own sphere have already proven, a balance struck between objectivity and subjectivity is the key to both entertaining and educating.

Going back to my original inspiration for this post, there was never a moment while reading Cruel Angel Theses that I felt as if the writer was incorrect. I did disagree at times, for purely subjective reasons, but his use of subjective beliefs and objective reasonings were enough to make the reader (in this case, me) go “ah, that makes sense!”

Or to put it more formally, the act of arguing one’s opinion, which is by its very nature subjective, with the use of facts and objective statements to back up said opinion, is what creates a powerful and compelling review. “Clannad is better than Gurren Lagann because the characters have feelings” is no more productive than “Gurren Lagann is better than Clannad because it has giant robots,” but either argument, if fleshed out properly, can qualify as at least semi-useful criticism. Neither essay would be worth publishing and/or handing in to the writer’s university professor, but they’d both work within context; which, in this case, would be the anime blogosphere.

criticism-post-2Relevant because I say it is

The long and short of it is that I believe strongly in the importance of criticism, and that a well written critical analysis – at least within this context – is both subjective and objective. I think Pontifus and his brother covered the topic extensively enough in the post that I linked, where the feelings should never be fully removed while criticising the art, but it also goes without saying that one shouldn’t write a thousand words on a forum that effectively sum up to “Shiori is cute so you should go watch Kanon.” Although I’m liable to do just that.

In any case, I’m using examples from the romance/moe genres intentionally: because I understand the inherent “flaws” that all anibloggers have toward the things that they like can indeed be seen as handicaps to their potential, but at the same time, those are the very “flaws” that make writing interesting. It wouldn’t accomplish much for a person to analyze the production values and animation quality of every show to air, or at least not for all of us to do that.

Of course, by no means am I implying that I’m a good writer – I’m sure many a critic has failed to heed their own advice – but understanding is the first step to improvement, and I think it’s important that all editorial writers take some time to contemplate why they write what they write and what makes it good or bad.

Whether or not criticism is an art form in itself, whether subjective opinions should be completely removed from an objective review, whether a critic should also be an artist and vice versa – those aren’t questions I hope to answer. Those are questions that professionals in the field have spent hundreds of years trying to answer, and will likely never come to a single, concrete conclusion.

But the way I see it, with relation to the anime blogosphere, criticism is a personal craft with various guidelines to abide to. As Owen mentioned in one of his earlier posts (while linking to a post from a blog that looks like it might be worth reading), one of the many distinctions between two equally qualified reviewers could be their appreciation for either the literary or the visual. Critic A might condemn/praise ef for its good/bad storyline and character development, and Critic B might do the same for its use of visual effects as an aid to – or a means of – storytelling. Would either of them be wrong? Assuming that they’re both equally skilled, then no, probably not. So long as neither of them scream “ef is good because Naru Nanao designed some of the characters,” or worse yet, “ef is good because I say so,” I’m willing to give them both the benefit of the doubt and read their opinions with an open mind.

criticism-post-3Relevant because…oh screw it, you shouldn’t be complaining anyway

So at the end of the day, my conclusion is that we can write what we want in the blogosphere and call it “critical” so long as we abide by a few obvious rules, but I also encourage all of you to take an introspective look at your own writing style. You don’t have to ramble about it online like I did, but a bit of quality reading – or simply thinking – might benefit you more than you’d think. The fundamentals of any given art are just as important as improvising, and in a community with no rigid rules set by an outside force, it’s up to us to keep an eye out for one another and make sure we’re still making sense.

It goes without saying that the blogosphere is constantly changing, and there are times – like right now – where setbacks occur that cause grieving, but for every writer that leaves, I like to believe that a new one enters. I have faith in our community that we will continue to provoke discussion and debate (even debate like this), and that we will continue to learn about the medium of anime from doing so. However, I also encourage you to take a step back for a moment and think about what you’re doing. I started doing that myself recently, and from the archives of one and a half blogs, I’m already amazed at what I’ve found.

And if that’s the case, then who knows what will happen if we continue to contemplate our medium of communication? So long as we don’t fill the sphere with meta, I can only assume that it will be something amazing.


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

OGT March 2, 2009 at 9:11 pm

I often feel like a terrible “critic” because I find it fairly difficult to pick out actual problems in something I like (especially when what might be a problem objectively is part of why I enjoy something subjectively, and doubly so if I’m still “reading” it, a process that can extend far beyond the actual engagement with fiction), so I feel like some kind of intellectual featherweight who spares not a thought to anything more complicated than “this is AWESOME“.

Of course, “critic” itself seems like a fairly loose term, and I don’t know if what I do gets included, excluded, or if it’s apples to oranges.

OGTs last blog post..Turn-A Gundam: Turn! Turn! Turn! A!


kadian1364 March 2, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Though I’m not a blogger nor do I study the hoity-toity abstractions about literary theory or whatever, since I’ve been reading certain anime blogs, I’ve started seeing and thinking differently about the shows I’ve watched and am currently watching. Specifically, I’m much improved in clarifying my own thoughts on series beyond the simplistic “I liked/disliked it”, and being able to detail the specifics to myself and to those minds that inquire. I simply have no one else but you cretins in academia land to thank, so pat yourselves on the back the general aniblog-o-sphere, that’s as much an admission of appreciation as you’ll get from me.


animekritik March 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm

hmm.. I think it’s critical to have a non-critical take on people’s criticisms of stuff. so i applaud you, ETERNAL, for taking the only sane course. i can’t believe people spend so much time attacking each other and ignoring the actual shows, or trying to be “objective” (as if they could separate the show from the viewer somehow) by being cold and clinical. By all means do tell us what you feel, and then explain how and why you feel that way. btw, on the subject of whether criticism itself is an art or not, i’d say most definitely it isn’t.

animekritiks last blog post..Issues and Images in Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (Part II)


IKnight March 3, 2009 at 2:41 am

I like to distinguish between criticism that analyses and criticism that judges. There is a difference, and most anime blogging is the latter type. In a newspaper ‘literary critic’ means someone who judges, but at an academic conference it means someone who analyses. They could actually be the same person (certainly some academic critics write reviews for newspapers), but they’re fulfilling separate functions.

Of course, critics tend to analyse things that they think are good, or at least things that they like to read. Analysis usually has a value judgement underneath it somewhere. But a reader can disagree with that value judgement while still enjoying the analysis (I’ve certainly read great articles about crap books). And judgements – reviews, in fact – can also be entertaining, and frequently contain gestures towards analysis (though I think their main function is, or should be, to help people find things that they will enjoy).

I’m not qualified to tell whether or not an activity is an art, but I’m convinced that literary criticism (both kinds) is a form of entertainment. That’s its justification. As for its application to anime, that’s doubly entertaining because it’s ‘doing it wrong’.

IKnights last blog post..Detroit Metal City: Laughing on the Outside


Pontifus March 3, 2009 at 5:21 am

Very nice post. I always wonder what people think of we crazed overanalyzers. I suppose I think of myself as a sort of populist, so I like seeing perspectives from people who don’t do criticism as such that let me know whether what I’m doing really has a broader application beyond my own enjoyment (it’s always a little surprising to find out when it does, as I’m motivated to write critically primarily by my own enjoyment, pretty much).

With that said, I think plenty of things could be called criticism, especially since we don’t have to follow the rules of academia here. Lately, I’ve been interested in the critical examination of reading as a visceral act — and, hell, it’s not as if there haven’t been academics who have done that sort of thing, too. The average “normal” editorial post may well have more critical value than it’s given credit for; it may be entirely subjective, but so is everything written about art ever (with maybe a scattered few exceptions…but probably not).

As IKnight says, I do think criticism can be justified by its entertainment value — but it isn’t always entertaining, and it doesn’t really have to be in the same way that art itself is entertaining. As it piggybacks on art, criticism can let art do the bulk of the entertaining, and focus instead on being thought purely for the sake of thought, a celebration of the mental faculties of humanity, unconstrained by the need to do anything at all. It’s something more and less than art; the body of literature probably regards the body of criticism with a puzzled expression, and wonders why, when the answer is of course just because. It doesn’t have to serve a practical purpose, like reviews and guides; it doesn’t have to be beautiful or entertaining or sublime, like art itself; what’s important isn’t the end result, the conference paper or blog post you get at the end, but the process itself. It’s a kind of ascetic experience; it’s monks meditating, or making sand art and destroying it afterward. It could be art, I suppose, but it’s more a complementary process, one that focuses on the journey rather than the destination — it’s not something one reads so much as it’s something one does, and, when done well, it propagates itself, spawns more criticism which spawns more criticism and so on.

Whew — I had no idea I felt that way. You may have ended my latest crisis of purpose singlehandedly. Thanks for that.


gaguri March 3, 2009 at 5:36 am

Can you say…epic comments?

Anyway I don’t have much to add except that people should write what they enjoy writing and there is little to win by criticising what others write. There are some blogs that overanalyses and sounds pretentious to me, but I’m sure plenty of people feel that way about my contents as well so -__-;;.

gaguris last blog post..Gankutsuou: Ruler of Novel to Anime Adaptations


coburn March 3, 2009 at 5:43 am

I’ve always aimed to criticise things for myself not so much because I enjoy the exercise in itself as because it help me to ‘give myself’ to whatever I’m reading/watching. Even if objectivity is mythical, getting outside of my own head and engaging with questions of judgement is part of the ritual by which I succeed in making entertainment matter to me. That said, there’s probably a big gap between playing at being a critic and reading criticism.

As you’ve shown here, reading someone else’s criticism can be an excellent way of making yourself think. Good reading is an active affair, it forces you to escape your own immediate reactions and consider things. Constructing your own critique, giving it formal shape for the sake of other people, is a bit different, and potentially more a case of finding satisfaction in artistry than of engaging with your personal response.


M12 March 4, 2009 at 3:14 am

I like the images you’ve included in this article. They’re so relevant ;).

Criticism is fine, as long as the aim isn’t to make somebody feel down, which is often the case. It’s also very bothersome when some people make a point that you may not agree with, yet they continue to push it upon you. That’s one of the most frustrating things.

I prefer giving suggestions and analysis rather than criticism.

Another random thing I’ve noticed. When you’re really bad at something, people often give encouragement rather than criticism. You know, it’s like, I’m so bad that people feel sorry for me. On the other hand, when you’re extremely skilled at something, that’s when criticism often start raining. To get criticised is often an indication that you’re good, especially if they’re being very offensive about it.

Lastly, often we get people who criticise just because they feel like they have to give negative feedback on everything. If something’s good, I’d rather embrace it than to force myself to find something to pick on.

Sorry, my comment is all over the place XD.

M12s last blog post..The Last Remnant – Demo


Owen S March 4, 2009 at 4:24 am

Thanks for the mention, it’s an honour, really. I don’t really have much by way of intelligent comments to add here, but I’ve always approached anime blogging–and criticism by extension–as a Why to the What. What do I like? Why do I like it?

In blogging with this in mind I found myself making a carpet out of a spool of thread in no time, and realised that I enjoyed it. I think there’s too many confused fans out there who aren’t aware why they like what they like, or what exactly it is about what they like that they like, and I wanted to be different in that respect by being an active consumer, not a passive one.

But that’s just me. Glad to hear you liked my archives, although I daresay I’m more than just a little tsundere for them, and like to pretend they were written by someone else with the same name.

Owen Ss last blog post..Wanko to Kurasou, or A Postmodern Patrasche


Omisyth March 4, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I’m all for criticism, but it gets to a point where I believe we’re becoming too analytical at times. There will be shows which you like for no particularly apparent reason. but dissecting it and trying to pinpoint that X-Factor is to take away some of the fun that was watching the show.

In fact, criticism on the blogsphere seems to be focused on why we like something rather than why we dislike it. Of course, that’s more to do with our urge to express our thoughts and opinions on something we believe worthy of mentioning, but if we become too embroiled in criticism we may find ourself disliking a show for reasons only apparent after close analysis.

Recently, I commented on digiboy’s when he said Shana had shit animation. I told him it didn’t, he set up his own parameters for “good” animation, justified his claim and proved me wrong. Now, a show that I previously thought had great animation has a blemish on my memory of it, thanks to criticism.

I hate to think what would happen if I looked at Toradora too closely. Perhaps that’s just sweeping the imperfections under the rug, but I don’t want my awesome show of the year to be spoiled by nitpicking.

Omisyths last blog post..A Few Words On Ghost Hunt’s ED (And OP/EDs In General.)


moritheil March 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Well done.

I am going to have to blog on this, it seems. I will link you!


Chris March 4, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Great topic, I have often thought about many of the issues you raised in your article, like.

“I can also understand the train of thought that excessive criticism doesn’t help anyone and hinders the enjoyment of the writer. I’ve long since believed that pure objectivity in ratings is a waste of time, since we’d all end up saying more or less the same thing, and I don’t think that anyone would benefit from the black-and-white “this is good, that is bad” outlook”

This is why for the most part, I only do ongoing reviews of anime that I like or find interesting. Over time I have found that what makes one person like or dislike a certain anime to be a very personal judgment call, does that show touch you on some emotional level? Do you actually like or identify with the characters? Do you actually care about what happens to the characters? If it does, then you’ll probably like the show regardless of the production quality or other issues surrounding the anime.

So, when I first watch a anime I ask myself, “does this show actually make me feel something, or do I really give a damn about the characters?” If I can’t answer “yes” after watching about 3-5 episodes than I won’t bother watching or blogging about the anime. If I had to sum up my blogging/criticism style it would be, does this anime have heart.

Chriss last blog post..White Album 9 review; Touya’s further indiscretions, but also a rant about Yuki.


ETERNAL March 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

@ OGT: “Critic” is a vague enough term that I decided to apply it to this post, so I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. If we were established writers getting paid by the word, then maybe we’d have to worry about objectivity, but as things are, the blogosphere is still fan-run and we all more or less understand that “this is AWESOME” is often times more important than “this is good.”

@ kadian1364: I think that’s enough of an admission in itself. I’m glad that our work is of value to more than just ourselves, and I hope that the blogosphere as a whole continues to provide insight on all manners of the medium.

@ animekritik: I guess you could call it critical, but having read Super Fani, I felt obligated to put something in there to make it obvious that I’m not trying to do what they do :P

@ IKnight: Well, I still like to think that all art can have some form of criticism for it, and at the very least, it has the power to entertain. Incidentally, you also cleared up a few questions that I didn’t even know I had about the difference between an analysis and a review.

@ Pontifus: You’re welcome :P
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what to say about your comment, other than the fact that I agree. Especially since we don’t have the confines of academic standards to abide to, the kind of criticism that we do is largely for the sake of, without any particular end in mind. It also helps our readers, of course, but it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the act of criticism is what encouraged many critics to continue, rather than the feedback that they receive from it. I’m sure that anyone who has tried to write an analytical blog post on something would agree that the act of writing can teach you a lot, often times much more than you ever thought you knew.

@ gaguri: The good thing about meta, especially the kind of meta that links to Super Fani and The Animanachronism, is that it spawns a plethora of epic comments. As for what you were saying, I’m sure that we all enjoy what we write – we wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. I don’t believe that too many anibloggers have truly crossed the “over-analytical” line, either, because your posts often confuse me as much as animekritik’s or cuchlann’s, and none of you seem to be complaining about one another :P

@ coburn: Well said. I know for a fact that I’ve learned a lot so far in both reading and writing, and lately, I feel as if I haven’t truly completed an anime that I like until I’ve written something on it. I suppose it also functions as a method of organizing one’s thoughts.

@ M12: Actually, I’ve noticed that as well: people, especially those you know in real life, would never really criticize you if you’re bad at something. It can get annoying to be criticized because you’re good, but once you acknowledge the reason behind the criticism, then it’s all right :P

@ Owen S: Well, it’s an honor that you consider this to be an honor :P
Like I think I said, the “why” is an extremely important question, and it’s something that not enough people ask themselves. Your writing helped drive that point home for me, and I started to see why people might like or dislike shows like the Key adaptations, without repetitive comments like “it’s heartbreaking” or “it’s contrived.”

@ Omisyth: Criticism is definitely risky business, but I guess I never bothered to think about the risks when compared to the rewards. It can definitely be dangerous to look too deeply for flaws, but when it comes down to it, a show that I’ve already deemed to be a favourite won’t drop too far in its standing even if I do go nitpicking. Either that, or I just haven’t done it enough yet.

@ moritheil: Thanks! I saw your post, and I swear I’ll read it some time soon!

@ Chris: I think that’s exactly why I still like the Key shows and the visual novel genre as a whole: even though their flaws are blatant, they connect with me emotionally, and that’s what really matters. There’s a fine line between being too subjective and being too objective, and I suppose we’ll spend a long time searching for the right balance between the two.


Ryan A March 7, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Been meaning to read this and finally…

I think there’s one factor being left out of this animeblogging criticism idea, and that is the actual writer. No matter how [non]pro-style a criticism may be, it allows the community, or whoever reads it, in on the perspective of that writer. This builds relations.

If I read some technically great criticism, but don’t really connect, I lose interest. The other route is debate, but even with agreeing, one can still not connect… entirely possible. Then again, I could read someone’s 2.5 sentence “paragraph” criticism on episode Q and if it enlightens me, I applaud, psychologically.

Some people are just magical. ^_^

Ryan As last blog post..Sweet 日本語


gonzomehum March 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Why hello – I do believe we have a meta-critique here. Just skimmed through it, but I like what I see.


Variable Gear May 30, 2009 at 9:13 am

Disclaimer: Outside of the following paragraph, I enjoyed this editorial.

“Whether or not criticism is an art form in itself, whether subjective opinions should be completely removed from an objective review, whether a critic should also be an artist and vice versa – those aren’t questions I hope to answer. Those are questions that professionals in the field have spent hundreds of years trying to answer, and will likely never come to a single, concrete conclusion.”

I don’t understand, first of all, how this is a relevant concern. Secondly, there’s no such thing as an objective review, and words like “should” evoke an instantaneous subjective connotation. Thirdly, I don’t think there would be any value to a conclusion about the potential superiority of critical artists over artistic critics (or vice versa). However, there is value to writing what you want to write and reacting to the readers that you receive. Fourthly, and finally, I’m going to exit the front of the stage and return to my seat.


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