Fundamental Biases and Art Evaluation

Management: This one was a really excellent question, and this topic is definitely something that critics need to be more willing to engage with and admit toHopefully this little confession won’t invalidate all my future criticism or anything.

You’ve previously talked about the distinction between personal enjoyment and artistic evaluation, and how what you like isn’t necessarily the most artistically impressive anime. Could you talk a bit about any fundamental biases you’ve noticed in your own anime appreciation/evaluation?

Oh, I’ve got a ton, in both the positive and negative directions.

On the positive side, I’ll definitely slant towards introspective and character-focused works over narrative or theme-based ones, though obviously this can change based on my perception of how well they accomplish what they try to do (Madoka’s all narrative and theme, and I absolutely love it). It generally goes Character->Theme->Narrative for me. I’m also a sucker for great or even decently well-articulated romance, and can follow one well-written and intriguing character through a generally mediocre show. I think pretty much the only things Ano Natsu had going for it were okay dialogue and decent chemistry between the main romantic pair, and that was all I needed to finish it. I also highly value snappy dialogue, and interesting narrative or pacing tricks and experiments (like the mini-arcs Gargantia builds out of various thematic points). I also really like imperfect shows that reveal a very distinctive creative vision, or, at the opposite end, shows that reveal a great mastery of storytelling craft fundamentals.

On the negative end, I could not care much less about setting and worldbuilding – they’re close to irrelevant to the way I evaluate art, and while I prefer a nice background world to a generic one, either way it’s window dressing for me. A character whose personality seems designed to make the audience happy, or moderate general fanservice, will rapidly sink a show for me. Leaden dialogue will sink a show even if the visual design is great and the story fairly well plotted. Narrative or dramatic cheating will often sink a show, particularly if that show wants you to invest in the reality of its world. Visual design in general is secondary to what I like about anime – again, if it’s got it, great, but it’s not what I’m there for and it won’t save a show. Sound design is also gravy – I’m in shows for characters, themes, and storytelling, and while everything outside of the writing can do great things to supplement or raise up those elements, they will pretty much always be supplementary, not central to my appreciation. Some shows do rise above this – KyoAni, the Monogatari franchise, and recently Brain’s Base have done a great deal of their character-building and storytelling through visual cues. This I really appreciate, and would like to see more of.

That’s all I can think of at the moment, but everyone has a million of them, and it’s a really interesting topic.