“Some nights it’s just entertainment, and some other nights it’s real.”
– The Hold Steady
“Your favorite anime is SHIT. SHIIIIIIIT.”
– The Internet
“Do you think that, when making an evaluation on a piece of media, you are in part making some statement about those who enjoy that media?”
That was the question that prompted this post, and it really stumped me for a long, long time. The knee-jerk reaction is “no, that’s not true – people all like different things, and they have the right to like whatever they want.” But that’s really just avoiding the question, right? Yes, people have the right to like, say, an incredibly racist fantasy about how Hitler was right. But when I say “agree to disagree” to a fan, aren’t I silently adding “you crazy racist fucker”?
Sort of. Maybe? It’s not that simple.
“It’s not that simple” was my answer at the time. “This deserves a whole essay’s worth of elaboration.” And it’s true! Both of those things are true. Our relationship with media is complex – what we like doesn’t wholly define us, but it also isn’t completely apart from who we are. It says something. It means something. But it doesn’t have to mean that much, and we don’t have to take these criticisms personally. Or maybe we should take them a little personally, and that’s actually kind of important. Maybe we should learn to think a little less of ourselves than we do.
Management: Vague character-arc spoilers for a few shows here – FLCL, Eva, Tatami Galaxy, Cowboy Bebop, Hyouka. Hyouka’s the only one I get particularly specific on.
Gonna share something a little different today! Recently I’ve been thinking about characters, which is probably because I am always thinking about characters. While a lot of my personal views on character writing have obviously come from reading and watching a whole lot of stories, a fair amount of my understanding has also come from writing characters. As a fiction writer, knowing how to write a fleshed-out human being is rarely optional – but even just as someone who just wants to poke more deeply at the things they consume, I think analyzing characters from a character-creation standpoint can be very enlightening. Characters are kind of like trees – though the individual branches of their actions may look strange and circuitous, generally everything winds its way back to the central trunk of their base nature and desires. And looking at characters trunk-first can do a whole lot of work to make sense of their wildly winding limbs.
So let’s get down to that trunk, to the absolute base nature of a character. There are a few ways to approach this, but personally I think the easiest way to consider character writing is to start with two key variables. The two often-conflicting desires that tend to define their choices, their conflicts, and their ultimate resolution: what they want and what they need.
Mushishi is a broad and ambiguous collection of vignettes, and it offers few easy answers. In light of this, it seems silly to try and impart any “one truth” of Mushishi’s narrative – everyone will take something different from its stories. In light of that, I hope my audience will forgive me for my own somewhat selfish experience of this series. Mushishi can mean many things to many people, but it means one very important thing to me.
Hey guys, back for Part Two of my critical evaluation piece. In Part One I argued, briefly, that art is valuable insofar as it imparts value upon the observer, and that in the collision between personal values and systems of aesthetic interpretation, we all have our own biases in such matters. Now, with that all said, it’s time to dive right in to my own stupid biases that make my evaluations crap that nobody should listen to. What kind of critic am I? Well, I’m actually pretty transparent.
So, I recently decided I’ve watched maybe enough shows to put together a useful Top Shows list, and in light of that, also decided it’s probably time to lay out a few of my own evaluative patterns and biases. I’ve talked about evaluation before – I covered it briefly in this piece, where my three main points were that people seek many different things in media, that evaluating shows requires taking their own goals into account, and that I believe not all goals are equally artistically valuable. But all of that doesn’t really tell you much about me – it’s just about systems in general, and if you’re going to get much use out of a “top anime list,” you really need more context than “these shows are great because I say so.” Who am I to say so? Well, the person who wrote all those essays on the right, at least. But can I offer a little more clarity than that?
Management: This particular piece only covers one side of the equation, so before I start, I should link this earlier piece that tackles this issue from the opposite angle.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve witnessed a good number of online teapot-tempests related to both criticism generally and tone specifically. Which seems like a silly thing to even announce – of course people have been bickering, this is the internet, that’s what it’s for. But these particular arguments kinda struck me – though they all concerned different groups of people, they all played out similarly, and I think the reasons why touch on some general pitfalls of both criticism specifically and discourse more generally. Unfortunately, those pitfalls don’t all line up in a neat row, so I’m gonna have to break this down into a few pieces – starting with the dangerous assumptions critics can make and hopefully meandering my way towards something approaching a point. Consider this an open letter to critics, fans, and anyone else who’s ever valued their own opinion enough to inflict it on others.
Management: Been a while since I’ve done a general criticism post, eh?
Are shows starring adults meaningfully different from shows starring teenagers? How about college students versus high school students? I ask because in many shows (Working! versus Servant x Service, etc), the differences seem largely superficial – the humor and character interactions all carry over.
Initially, I wasn’t really sure if there was a point to reviewing this one. I mean, it’s the third season of a self-aware harem comedy/parody. If you’re watching it, you know what you’re getting, and if you’re not, you know why you’re not. What would be the audience for a piece like that?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this season basically makes the show. Sure, it’s always been funny. Sure, it’s always taken pointed but lighthearted jabs at harem scenarios and anime character writing. But this season takes the gloves off. This season makes a point.
Alright, I’m gonna use one of my least favorite words here. Normally, I think it’s both misapplied and meaningless, but for once, it just might be appropriate.
TWGOK S3 completes the show’s arc as a deconstruction of harem comedies.
Management: Another brief one. This topic could easily be expanded into questions like “what is originality?” and “what is the intersection of craft and voice?”, as well as the way craft and insight inherently lead to a level of specificity in storytelling which makes any good genre piece “original” enough to avoid feeling derivative or superfluous. But those are easily essays by themselves.
When forming your opinion of a show, what do you value more highly: originality or execution?