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!