Critical of Criticism (Part 1 of 3)

I have a bit of a rant on the state of anime criticism (and it ends up going long so here’s part one)

So what are we talking about today? Just a few things about the state of journalistic (both professional and amateur) ‘criticism’ as it pertains to the entertainment world–specifically anime.

Oh boy. Are we in for one of your trademark rant style posts? Funny you should say that, I actually began writing this as a formal essay, you know quoting actual books and looking up the etymology of words from their Latin roots and all that shit and about halfway through I stopped and started this version–the one you all are reading now in my familiar QandA format.

I studied hard for this one you guys.

Why’d you make the change? Let’s just say I had an idea that was too good to pass up, you’ll find out later why…

Jeez, clickbait much? It’s not clickbait if they’ve already clicked on it! Ahem, anyway. So I wanted to talk about three things specifically the first of which is: There Are No Original Stories, Everything Is Derivative.

Well, that’s certainly a sweeping statement, what idiot said that? Me.

Oh… And well probably a bunch of other, much smarter people before me too, but I think if any critic worth their salt wants to exist and persist in an entertainment medium as overpopulated as anime is they have to realise this sooner than later. And more importantly realise that being derivative is ~NOT~ a bad thing!

Now these are some “clones” I’d like to be “attacked” by!

Isn’t its dictionary definition literally a negative? You can’t just redefine what a word means! And in the original post I said something about how the words’ Latin origins simply mean “taken or having proceeded from another or others, secondary”. Basically something being “derivative” should literally mean it’s got elements from something else.

Okay but how does that help a reviewer who’s trying to express their own opinions on a work–are they not allowed to criticise something because it’s too familiar to something that came before? That’s on the individual to decide–I’m not trying to change how people think I’m just trying to make people realise there’s other factors at play when reviewing something they deem “derivative”. First and foremost is this weird notion that if something is similar to something else it’s somehow a lesser product. Which–if we go by that logic–means that only the very first of each anime story-type is worthwhile and everything else is just a pale imitation. By that reasoning the last 20+ years of anime would all be rendered “derivative” and “inferior” which I’m sure sounds like paradise for some MAL hipsters but for the rest of us doesn’t make any logical sense.

*eye twitches intensify*

Veering quickly into rant territory, please keep to the roads, yeah? So, the point your making is that people shouldn’t use a works perceived “derivativeness” as a negative when approach an anime from a review standpoint? They can, if they want to but I’m just saying it’s lazy and downright reckless criticism. To take a recent example, as of the writing of this piece an anime called ‘YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love At The Bound Of This World’ (stupid-long title, I know) is currently airing. Simply put (and avoiding major spoilers) it’s a sci-fi time-travel show that deals with the protagonist trying to avert the death of a loved one and uncover various mysteries and cover-ups with mild harem elements on the peripheral. To some people that sounds interesting, to others it sounds like discount ‘Steins;Gate’. It’s an easy comparison to make, not the least because they are both based off frequently hard to adapt visual novel sources but here’s where things get interesting. ‘Steins;Gate’ is a critical darling and fan-favourite, ranking #3 on MAL, whereas ‘YU-NO’ is languishing wayback at #6679. The thing is, that while ‘Steins;Gate’ the anime came first airing in 2011. If we’re to go to the source material of each the ‘Steins;Gate’ visual novel came out in 2009 whereas the ‘YU-NO’ visual novel came out all the way back in 1996!

Respect your elders!

But it doesn’t matter which came first, if ‘Steins;Gate’ is better then that’s that! That’s exactly my point too–but a large portion of ‘YU-NO’s audience only views anime chronologically not reflecting on the age of the source material, and thus purposefully rate ‘YU-NO’ lower as its seemingly derivative of ‘Steins;Gate’ and countless other time-travel and sci-fi properties despite the fact that it came first!

And that makes it better?! Ugh, no! What I’m saying is people should judge an individual anime’s quality on its own merits and not how it measures up to other similar anime. The reason I brought up ‘YU-NO’ is because it specifically shows the idiocy and hypocrisy of people who are so uninformed that they don’t realise a show in 2019 is actually the inspiration for a show from 2011 because the 2019 show is actually from 1996. Wow, it’s almost like time travel irl!

This gif doesn’t have sound but I can still hear his laugh.

Okay, okay. So basically what you’re saying is simply people should judge an individual anime on its own merits and not how it compares/is seemingly derivative of another anime? I would think most people already do that? You’d think so, but no. From the most humble of anibloggers all the way up to–whatever qualifies as being the top of anime critics–people are tearing down anything that dare not bring anything “original” to the table. But only when it’s appropriate to their interests of course. People are biased towards certain genres, nothing wrong with that, but when your sole criticism of a specific anime is that it’s too similar to other anime in a genre you already don’t like then you might as well be screaming into a brick wall because I’m sure as heck not going to be listening to you anymore.

I hate to ask but you’re going to need to give me an example. Turns out I’ve watched a lot of ‘Slice of Life’ anime, over a hundred if you’re to believe my anilist profile–not a ridiculous amount but still more than the average anime fan I’d wager. So imagine my confusion and annoyance when I see reviewers who historically aren’t at all interested in ‘Slice of Life’ as a genre to begin with calling recent shows like ‘Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu’ such catty adjectives as “silly” and “slight” and “pointless”. And this is positively mild compared to the kind of criticism that greeted shows such as 2018’s ‘Slow Start’–a show which literally has slow in the title and yet had people unironically negatively remarking that it was “slow” to “start”.

Watch ‘Slow Start’, end message.

I feel like a bit of a broken record here, but people are allowed to not like a thing you like. That’s literally the reason critics exist to give a broad perspective on things they both like and dislike. So here’s the thing… people like to say they watch things outside of their “regular field of interest” because it exposes them to things they won’t normally gravitate to and it gives them a wider view of the world. That’s bullshit, people watch things they don’t like because people get off on being negative and hateful. Oh sure, call me a pessimist but why else would a critic watch something they already know they won’t like based on the genre? You don’t see a food critic who’s allergic to shellfish order the crab souffle with a side of oysters and then give it 2 out of 10 because it fucking killed him!

B…but how could we review it if he died… wait nevermind, that’s not the point. Wait, what is the point your trying to make?! Sum it up for me because this was supposed to be a shorter post but this is only part 1 of 3 of the points you intended to make… (turns out this is going to be a 3 part post, oops) My point is review the show that you’re watching not comparing it to shows that have slim to nothing to do with it and if you’re going to review something that your predisposed to dislike be aware that your opinion is at best going to be disregarded or at worst be held accountable for adding nothing but negativity to the discourse. Everything in this world is derivative of something else but if you spend all your time looking at an anime for everything that it’s similar to rather than everything than it has going for it, then why bother at all?


Join me next time when I’ll be continuing this rant in Part 2 (coming soon).

If you liked my post and want to support my content, please consider supporting my Patreon page, or donating by buying me a coffee on Ko-fi!



Author: Cactus Matt

I love anime and more recently manga too. What else do I need to write here?

17 thoughts on “Critical of Criticism (Part 1 of 3)”

  1. You have an interesting perspective. I’ve read stuff from just about all periods of human history; and I’ve made it a point to study plots. Depending on who you talk to, there are only about 7 plots. Across all human history until now.

    Not only that, but we’re all part of human history.

    It’s impossible not to be derivative. So the question is, has a given work committed plagiarism? If the answer’s no, then asserting that work _x_ is derivative is the same as saying the sun is bright or the unclouded sky is blue.

    I also understand the temptation, when you’re in a hurry trying to finish a review, to slap in something easy. It’s derivative! It’s complex! It’s this or that. It’s harder to express what you really think about something and why.

    But really, isn’t that why we read each other’s stuff? To find out?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s understandable that people review how they want to review it’s just sometimes I find the way certain people review difficult to relate to. Sometimes I let that get in the way of actually seeing the substance of their review, I should probably learn to be a bit more accepting but I’m pretty stubborn lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s important to challenge your beliefs and interests so you don’t become mired in dogmatic ideology.

    I don’t care for the shoujo genre, but I’m watching Fruits Basket mostly because I want to see what the fuss was about, and I’m enjoying it. I’ll probably never watch any more shoujo, it’s just not my style, but I am getting a better understanding of the genre. I wouldn’t have done that if I turned my nose up at it for being “girly”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true enough. I am also watching Fruits Basket for the same reasons and also enjoying it. I think the difference is people who watch things knowing they won’t like it, failing to keep an open mind and criticizing it all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Be critical, but be fair, and don’t be an asshole. Don’t lambast a show for not adhering to your personal ideology. Don’t dismiss a show because of one crappy episode, or a sloppy premise. Stop trying to hold up television and media to unfair puritanical standards. That doesn’t mean roll over and accept everything, but pick your battles, know when something is what it is, not what you want it to be.

        If I can do that over a bloody Shinmai Maou No Testament, anyone can.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. In the first part of this post I think you’re completely right but don’t necessarily agree with the approach you’ve taken to get to the conclusion. In the art world, they like to use the word “inspiration”. Kind of exactly what you’re talking about when you use the word “derivative”. In fact, they constantly hammer it in so that people understand that “stealing” (not actually stealing but taking inspiration) is a vital part of artistic design. You can look up latin origins all you want but there’s kind of no point. Consensus outrules the definition you wanna reproach. Especially when inspiration is almost exactly the same thing except with a slightly more proactive connotation to it. And don’t take this too harshly but the criticism, in question, seems very… Easy? For example, I do think anime is very derivative on average and that it is a bad thing. Of course, not to the extent to which you’re insinuating these people see it to be derivative. I could explain more if you want but this’ll be a long enough reply as it is.

    Moreover, when you say “people watch things they don’t like because people get off on being negative and hateful”. I do think you’re being a pessimist. I mean I don’t think you’re entirely wrong there are people like that. But I wouldn’t know how to identify such things. I personally go into watching anime generally with low expectations because I know the medium, albeit my favorite medium and is why I watch as much anime and feel as loyal about it as a Son to his Mother; it contains terrible content on almost every level. I’ve seen 600+ anime and I can count the amount I’ve truly loved on one hand. I know the reasons why I continue to watch. Because I genuinely want to try to make it better with my words if I can. But, as a bi-product, I hope to prove myself wrong. I want to like what the broader audience likes. I keep a list of anime that I will most likely like on reserve because of fear I may run out of anime I like as that list is not very long. I put hours upon hours of thinking about my perspective and try to analyze different lenses only to find myself back @ square one. Yet I do live in fear that my perspective will be seen, as you describe, a need for negativity and ignore any reasoning I may have due to merely the fact that it is negative. Am I really just “a guy that gets off of negativity”? Is all my work for naught? Am I really going to try so hard to contextualize everything I think only for such a baseless claim to uproot every known logistical standpoint I’ve made and for it to successfully do so because the broader audience would more easily agree with that statement? Again, you’re likely not always wrong. Humans vary so much. They vary in their intent, subconscious and many more ways which might effect how they think. However, I find such a statement to be dismissive of discussion and, not entirely to your fault, but I do take offense.

    On another note, I like how stylistic your blog is. Not just visually but the way you write appropriately following the theme you’ve set up here with “Anime QandA”.
    Making it almost a live, albeit one-sided, discussion in written form. I’ve only just dropped by so I don’t know if my suggestion would have any merit but it would be more engaging were you to do a QandA type collaboration with other bloggers. Also, I don’t know if you intended for this but I keep reading it as “Qanda”. Like “Panda”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to have caused offensive if any kind. Even though I speak with a sort of ‘know-it-all’ authority on the matter—that’s more the rant side of me coming out. I write off the cuff and largely unedited so I can say things that people might find harsh, like one might do in an actual argument.

      I guess where you and I personally differ on anime is I’ve watched about 400 anime in total and “truly love” about 50 of them with another 100 of them being ones I consider “great” so I’ve clearly got a low bar for greatness which means when I see people endlessly criticizing I kind of don’t understand. But that’s just me!

      Thanks for your kind words on the format, I do a weekly collab with Irina from where this format is carried over in a conversational format. This season we’re reviewing Cinderella Nine. Maybe I’ll expand and collaborate with more bloggers in the future.

      P.S the “Panda” was unintentional but I read it as that sometimes too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh believe me when I say I am similarly off-the-cuff. Or rather, “blunt” better defines me. I saw you tweet about how you were a little hesitant on posting this and was a bit sad. All I’ve ever wanted was discourse. People constantly questioning one another. Questioning themselves. Don’t be scared to potentially be wrong. There’s no reason. And who knows you might be right.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have reached a point where originality isn’t a requirement to me for me to like something. Hell, my favorite anime of last year, Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Girl, is derivative of a lot of anime.

    I think a more correct word to use isn’t derivative, but spiritually similar. The plots are different, but the spirit of both are the same. Sure, it’s basically saying derivative, but at least it doesn’t sound as bad,lol.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Part of the problem we have today is that people assume the negative meaning of the word “criticism” is the default. In other words, people assume that “criticism” means “find something negative to say about it at all costs” rather than “appraise”.

    If you can’t think of anything specific, calling it derivative or unoriginal is a pretty safe bet. If you’re… a particular type of person, flinging in some progressive buzzwords like “misogynistic” and all the -phobias is a good one too, even if those arguments can be easily dismantled. Or, if you’re REALLY out of ideas, use that old chestnut “it has issues” or “it’s flawed”, without actually being able to say what “issues” it has or how it’s flawed.

    Sometimes — hell, often — good criticism isn’t about pointing out how bad something is or what it can do “better”; the idea of “criticism as buyer’s advice” is a distinctly modern, capitalist idea.

    Sometimes criticism is specifically about analysing things without making a value judgement: how a work continues a longstanding tradition, or builds on an established formula, or simply does something interesting. If you read a book of literary criticism, it’s not filled with academics complaining about how Tristram Shandy is “shit”; read a book of musical criticism and you won’t find someone whingeing about how Philip Glass tunes are “the same all the way through”; hell, even most film criticism is better than this by now.

    The ambiguity of the term “criticism” is why I tend to avoid using it whenever possible; I tend to prefer “analysis”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just think I’m not cut out for reviewing things anymore. I’m more than happy to overlook perceived ‘faults’ in all the CGDCT and slice of life shows and just have my reviews be “it’s adorable and I love it”. Or maybe I’m just tired of all the endless complaining and want to focus on what makes me happy rather than dissect it into oblivion.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Embrace it, then! This is what I’ve been doing for five years now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to see the positive in things, and I think people get too hung up on that idea of a “fair and balanced review”. More often than not, I’d much rather read some honest enthusiasm rather than negativity for the sake of negativity.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. What Pete Davison said!

        Review what and how you want. That’s why I like reading your reviews! I get a sense for your perspective and I like seeing what you’re enthusiastic about!

        MAL and others can give me a synopsis; there are plenty of folks playing the role of “impartial” critic.

        What they can’t give me is your opinion.

        So write that! Let your enjoyment shine through!

        Unless you really don’t want to, in which case feel free to ignore this unsolicited advice!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Thanks! I appreciate the supportive words from both of you, I have plans to change up the content on my site to facilitate more positivity and allow me to blog more often and write about what makes me happier. I have a post coming up about it soon!

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: