2015 – Year in Review

Aw dang, it’s Wednesday. That technically makes it time for the week in review, but there’s a bit of a problem – most of the shows I was watching have actually ended, so I don’t really have much to talk about. I’ve already written enough words about Beautiful Bones to last several lifetimes, and I even covered IBO on my ask.fm, so in the absence of much to discuss, I guess I’m just gonna pack this one in. Cya next time, guys!

Alright, clearly I’m not doing that. I wouldn’t have written that opening paragraph in the first place if I was just going to end it there. Instead, let’s do the very stupidest and most labor-intensive thing to replace the week in review. It’s December 30th, 2015 has been a pretty interesting year for me, and I might as well take a brief moment to look back. Let’s turn our eyes back to the year that was and RUN IT DOWN.

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“You’re Watching It Wrong”

I made a lot of people mad a little while ago. Angry forum threads, capslock responses filling up my ask.fm inbox, the whole nine yards. I even heard people were planning on emailing my editor! It was an exciting time for everyone, but I can’t say I didn’t deserve it. I did something that, if you’re truly, deeply attached to your experience of a media object, can be absolutely unforgivable.

I watched a show wrong.

Unlimited Blade Works

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No Politics: Media and Identity

We’ve been hearing a lot of it lately, at least from the more gurgly and questionable-smelling corners of the internet – a demand for “objective reviews.” Reviews that leave politics at the door, and simply give audiences an untainted appraisal of some media property. If you read my stuff at all regularly, I’m sure you can take a guess as to my thoughts on the validity of this request – given how often I stress the variability of personal experience, art experience, and critical evaluation, it should come as no surprise that I find this demand pretty misguided. But it keeps coming up, and it actually reflects on a number of more interesting elements of both how we parse media and how media is constructed, and so I figured I’d take my own shot at the topic. So let’s get down and dirty with objectivity in criticism!

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Your Taste is Bad and So Are You

“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.

Here’s what I think.

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The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture

“And I / I disowned my / own family
All for love / All for love.”
The Lake – Typhoon

Madoka Rebellion

I’ve been planning on writing about Madoka Rebellion for a long time now, but Rebellion really hasn’t made it easy for me. It’s a strange beast – both reflective of Madoka Magica and totally apart from it, a continuation in some ways, a betrayal in others. Though you can certainly critique it as a film in its own right, it only really unfolds when you put it in context – and when a film’s context is “an emerging sea change in the process of media engagement,” it can be kinda hard to sum up the film as Good or Bad! If you’re looking for a simple takeaway, I believe Rebellion is a beautiful film and a terrible sequel – but why that is, and what its existence actually reflects, will take a little unpacking to explain. To understand Rebellion, you really have to understand Madoka Magica – so let’s begin there, with the series that started it all.

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Craft and Romantic Comedy

Management: Finally posting the sequel to this piece, which focuses much more closely on four commercially successful romantic comedies: Sakurasou, Toradora, Clannad, and Chuunibyou.


I can see where you’re coming from when you talk of judging a show according to its goals, as well as your reservations regarding some goals. How would you apply these metrics to Sakurasou?

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Media Goals and Critical Evaluation

Management: This is a two-parter that I’ve split up because while the original question was based on my panning of Sakurasou, it also concerns a lot of media evaluation theory that is much more generally relevant. I’ve divided it as best I can into separate questions to reflect this – Part 1 here should be relevant to everyone.


It seems impossible to fairly evaluate shows unless you take those shows’ own goals into account, and try to respect their specific priorities. Do you think some of the shows you rate poorly are merely a result of approaching these shows with the wrong mindset, or wishing they were different shows entirely? How do you reconcile your personal taste, or the nature of taste in general, with your attempts to assess art in a general way?

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What Defines a Work as Mature?


What makes a show “mature” or “for adults?” I see people throw these terms around in a condescending way, saying that shows like Steins;Gate or Madoka are inferior to shows like Monster because they’re aimed at teenagers. Are there any actual guidelines or metrics here?

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Is Anime an Inferior Medium?


Many people seem extremely dismissive of otaku culture and anime in particular, claiming anime is an inferior cultural medium to books, movies, etc. How would you go about refuting this argument?

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Attack on Titan and Violence as a Storytelling Device

Management: As always, I rephrase original questions if it’s necessary to make my responses make sense out of the context of a conversation. None of these questions are meant to represent one specific person, they’re just stand-ins for the conversations that provoked my responses.


Do you believe the necessity of censorship in what can be shown on television is hurting Attack on Titan? It seems like the camera has cut away from extreme violence pretty regularly so far.


I don’t think it’s really being censored; frankly, I can’t imagine they could really go much further than they currently are and not have it devolve into self-parody through its extreme nature.

I generally feel that less is more when it comes to this brutal stuff, since I’d hope the point is generally to convey the effect this violence is having on the characters involved, and not just to portray brutal stuff for the hell of it. The scene where Eren saw Misaka’s parents is a good example of this – the door opens, then there’s a quick series of cuts: blood on the windows, blood on the door, a distant, obscured shot of the room, and then a reaction shot. All the information is conveyed in a way that draws the viewer directly into Eren’s overwhelmed perspective, and tying violence to characters you’re supposed to empathize with always makes it land as more personal and visceral than just showing the viewer some gore.

In fact, I think popcorn slasher films use this truth for the opposite effect – they keep the characters impersonal and generic, and the violence hyper-visible and ridiculous, to ensure the viewer is normally at a safe, removed distance from the proceedings. Whereas truly effective horror films imply a great deal more than they reveal (getting the viewer’s imagination to do the work), and tie the viewer very closely to characters who’ve been well established, making the viewer much more personally involved and thus much more vulnerable. And there are a ton of effective spins on this mechanism – for instance, Battle Royale combines stylized violence with melodrama to create a little distance and make the viewer’s experience more akin to an adventure film than a horror film, as well as ensure the film’s underlying ideas aren’t overwhelmed by character focus.

The use of violence in media has to fall in line with that media’s goals if it doesn’t want to result in viewer disconnect, and I think that if Titan’s goal is to make you empathize with the characters, it needs to always be in control of that, imply at least as much as it shows, and save the ultraviolence for only when it’ll be truly effective. I actually think it’s gotten a lot better about this, but I think it had much less control early on, and it’s always a balancing act.