In discussing Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, you talk a lot about whether a show’s ideas or themes are well-articulated. However, I consider myself a person who watches shows for characters, and want my media to be worth empathizing with on a human level. Is there room for this instinct in your cold, blackened critic’s heart?
Haha, I actually consider myself the same way – most of the stories that effortlessly connect to me are the ones primarily interested in characters and relationships. For instance, Toradora and Chuunibyou are two of my very favorite shows, and they’re far more thematically simplistic than Maoyuu or Penguindrum – they’re just character stories told well. And Evangelion is my actual favorite show, because I think it explores characters more fully than anything else I’ve seen.
But I also find both the craft of storytelling and human nature in general fascinating, and this show is just very unique in its purpose and methods. For instance, in episode 8 of Maoyuu, I loved that the characters’ response to the church condemning the scholar wasn’t something like, “damn the church! How could we have foreseen this?!” or “we have to fight them,” it was: “Unfortunate. If we fight the church, we lose the people. How can we minimize the fallout of this attack?” It’s willing to make a lot of smart assumptions about human nature, and then build on those assumptions to find some really compelling truths.
Can you explain your scoring/evaluation system a bit? The numbers as they stand just don’t make sense to me – Chuunibyou a 10, CLANNAD a 3, After Story an 8, Nisemonogatari a 9, Nozo no Kanojo X a 4. What’s the system here?
I actually recently changed my scoring system to make use of the numbers more effectively – anything six and up is “solid” for me, and it’s only 3 and down that I consider “bad”. You can see my current grading system in the Aboutsection.
The three main things I look for in a show are: Does this show convey what it wants to in an effective way? Is what it is trying to convey meaningful or distinctive? Does the experience of this show resonate with me emotionally?
So, regarding the shows you listed…
I think Chuunibyou is not terribly ambitious, but it is very, very close to perfect in conveying its characters and story, and it struck me very strongly emotionally. It is, outside of exactly one scene in the first 11 episodes and some extremely slight pacing issues in the finale, what I’d consider a “Perfect Romantic Comedy.”
Clannad, on the other hand, I felt was incredibly ineffective as a comedy, slice of life, or romance – the side arcs murdered the pacing, the characters on the whole were thinly developed, and Jun Maeda has no subtlety in his writing, making the show veer constantly between repetitive slapstick and unearned melodrama. Plus, I found characters like Fuko and Kotomi extraordinarily problematic in their design – perhaps the VN developed them as people, but in anime format they came across as vehicles for viewer’s broken bird fantasies, which I consider one of the very worst things about anime.
In contrast to this, once After Story escapes from the side arcs, it becomes an incredibly effective and very unique look at life after education, something that is both woefully underrepresented in anime and very resonant for me personally. The episode where Tomoya is first forced to semi-interact with his abandoned daughter is honestly one of the most distinctive, effectively directed, and powerful episodes of television I’ve ever seen. But because that is just a subsection of the show (and because I feel the ending undercuts most of the drama the show has earned), it only averages out to an 8.
Nise I already posted that huge-ass analysis of , but in short I think it approaches issues of perspective, self-representation, and the male gaze with incredible intelligence, and while uneven, is such a necessary art experiment that I have to strongly respect it.
Finally, I just thought Nozo no Kanojo was incredibly uneven, and while it had some very interesting ideas (particularly the rare and noteworthy focus on how weird and uncomfortable adolescent intimacy can be), it too often fell into the routines of its genre to be considered a solid work.
I’d actually love to keep talking about any of those shows, since you picked a set of examples that I find extremely interesting as artistic works, even though I personally enjoyed or respected some more than others. There’s something interesting in virtually every show – I pretty much never regret having watched something.
In that case, would you agree that there’s a fair amount of personal passion in your rating system? Also, would you say the quite harsh scores you give to certain shows (Another, OreImo) is more reflective on your selective process of watching anime than their objective quality?
I actually do try to keep the passion to a minimum, and restrict it to corner cases like the one you mentioned. For instance, I really do think Chuunibyou is more or less a flawless execution of a classic concept, but I’d have to admit that my own preference for romance and character-based shows might knock that one to a 10 over something like, say, Baccano. But I don’t think it’s all that unfair to say shows that strive for deeper meanings or strong emotional resonance are “aiming higher” than pure adventures or comedies – and normally, adventures and comedies are largely improved by the addition of these elements.
I also sometimes use my emotional reaction as a counterweight to my critical assessment of a show – for instance, logically I considered Ano Hana emotionally manipulative and awkwardly constructed, but because I actually did have an emotional reaction to the finale, I figured it was at least partially effective. Obviously the distance between my personal preferences/emotional touchstones and my critical assessments will always result in disconnects, but I try to be aware of it and only use the emotional response as a tool and sounding board, not a general metric.
My previous scoring system was a lot closer to the classic “5 is a failing grade” system – almost everything on my list was 7 or higher, and my grading system was basically 7 = decently flawed but I enjoyed it more than I didn’t, 8 and up are things I’d actively recommend. But I figured copying the classic grading system wasn’t really that valuable – if everything below 6 is just “so bad it’s not worth watching,” why shouldn’t I condense that category? It seemed more useful to stratify degrees of flawed but interesting shows than degrees of terribleness – for the lower shows, I figure “Just plain bad,” “Tooth-grindingly terrible,” and “Literally offensive to my values as a human being” should suffice.
The shows you mentioned kind of betray my own view of the anime medium – that is, I appreciate it and critique it primarily as a narrative, message-based, or character-focused art form, and not a visual one. I mean, I do love great visuals, and when they work in service of a show it’s incredible (Madoka and Hyouka represent two ways visuals can really contribute to themes, characters, and narrative, for example, and Redline works so well because all the narrative elements work in service of the fantastic visuals), but I won’t have mercy on a show just because it has polished production. OreImo might be very competent in its design and animation, but because I find its messages actually offensive and likely developmentally hurtful to its intended audience, I probably couldn’t personally like or critically respect it any less even if it were less competently produced.