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January 24th, 2018
Anime Relations: Kimi no Na wa.
In light of the critically-acclaimed-yet-polarizing hit Your Name, a few anime youtubers have made videos presenting detailed insight on the career of its director (makoto shinkai). While some of these youtubers are far more forgiving of him than others (I think Digibro is the most honest about his shortcomings if I remember correctly), I think all of them avoided stating the obvious:

Shinkai can get away with making anything.

This is not to say that Shinkai is a bad director or that his movies deserve really low scores or whatnot. It's not even about some rabid fanbase of acolytes who dedicate their lives to propping up his career - that clearly isn't happening either. So why do I say he can get away with anything? Digibro called his storytelling tricks "gimmicks;" I call the overall strategy "feels-baiting." Average age of anime fans, especially of those who would bother watching Shinkai's work, rests within the most emotionally vulnerable consumer demographic. In every feature he's helmed and written, he basically eschews the responsibility of competent narrative in order to achieve maximal emotional manipulation. He's just pulling a Nicholas Sparks with everything he does, more or less, and fans of his work in my opinion lack the self-awareness to realize this. Basically just present the highest-quality animation and music, present a highly emotional hook or premise, and no matter how bad the overall product is people will compare you to Miyazaki. All that's left is to cash those paychecks and make another one. As a result of this strategy (which I find to be highly cynical - just manufacture this moment to generate so-and-so emotional response because we know it will be effective), fans of his work will bully and villainize anyone who can stop crying for two damn seconds to evaluate the quality of his work. Gimmicks. Feels-baiting.

Thankfully his movies' animation and music are excellent. Because he could literally give us a story worse SAO's Alfheim arc, with animation worse than Shin Chan, plot contrivances worse than Lost, and an ending worse than Evangelion's original run... and people will defend it. They will mock, ridicule, and bully anyone who so much as points out a plot hole. Literally, if a story makes someone cry, they'll believe it's the best thing they've ever seen and they'll hate anyone who is anything less than maximally hyperbolic in their adoration.

To be clear, these people are not defending a movie. They are defending their feelings. They take it as a personal attack since something that made them cry was criticized. So moving past the fact that grown-ass adults aren't supposed to be that thin-skinned, we need to be more self-aware of why we are defending movies and shows that are criticized.

I think asking oneself a few questions can help one reflect on whether their apologetics are justified:

1. "Am I able to set aside my personal feelings to objectively evaluate the criticism?"
If no, ignore the criticism and move on with life. Oftentimes people get butthurt because we tend to see criticism of our favorite things as a personal attack, as if the critic is saying "you're stupid if you enjoyed this." However that is NOT what the critic is saying, you're probably just being too sensitive.

2. "A show or movie has no feelings, so do I need to rush to its defense?"
A lot of kids think it's up to them to white-knight on behalf of either the movie itself, which has no feelings to be hurt, or on behalf of the writer (who can't hear the criticism over that loud and enormous cash flow).

3. "Do I enjoy this show or movie even after gaining new insight on its possible flaws? If yes, then is it necessary to start an internet argument?"
People tend to be obtuse and can't tell the difference between commenting on enjoyment and commenting on objective qualities of something. No one is saying you're no longer allowed to enjoy Your Name. No one is saying you're not allowed to cry. And if they are, but you cried anyway, doesn't that just mean you can ignore them regardless? They clearly can't dictate what you're allowed to cry about. So don't engage in disingenuous defense of bad writing over feelings.

4. "Will my internet argument actually prove that this internet stranger's criticism is invalid, or am I just trying to say it's still good despite any flaws?"
If for some weird reason you still can't acknowledge that it's your feelings at stake and you sincerely believe their criticism is invalid, reflect upon the potential consequences of such an argument. You will be clearly biased because of your feelings which will make it more difficult for you to defend your position rationally. Even if the critic is being a jerk about how they word their criticism, and even if you manage to get the last word in, seriosuly think over whether you have the power to change someone's mind. Also think about your belief which contradicts their criticism and why you think it's true and that they're wrong. How did you determine your belief to be true? Can you demonstrate the truth value of your position easily and effectively? If not, have you reflected on whether that belief really IS true?

5. "Am I about to make a special pleading argument in which the show or movie in question needs to be held to different standards than other shows and movies?" Think of the worst anime you've ever watched, or think of the most commonly-hated or panned anime. Now think of the anime you liked enough to tear up, and think of the guy on the internet who just pointed out a plot hole. You find yourself about to say something really, REALLY stupid like "well it's just a movie" or "it's fantasy/science fiction/etc so pointing out that plot hole is stupid." If we can just waive standards for what makes good writing, then you've just conceded that there is no reason to believe the movie that brought you to tears is any better or worse in quality than your most hated show/movie you've ever watched. That's the game you play if you write off criticisms as things people aren't allowed to voice if it has to do with fiction. You're admitting that you purposely lower your standards without reasonable justification for certain things; in other words, you don't care whether something is good or not as long as it makes you cry.

While I will write another post about my specific criticisms of Your Name and how people make themselves look super-duper irrational by trying to jump to Shinkai's defense, my tl;dr for THIS post is thus: it is easier to just acknowledge criticism, reflect on criticism, admit there are serious problems with the things you develop emotional attachments for, and move the HFIL on. Use your thinky-brain to reflect on whether you are interpreting art criticism as a personal attack, and if you are, refrain from jumping into a critique discussion for your own good. I think Your Name's story was some of the laziest-written stuff in ages but I still rated it high based on enjoyment. This is called honesty, you can do it too.
Posted by Crusader_8 | Jan 24, 2018 11:12 PM | 3 comments
December 26th, 2017
Anime Relations: Net-juu no Susume
If you read all this then please comment below your thoughts! Much appreciated :)

I recently submitted a suggestion in the suggestions subforum regarding the current ratings guide, and how changing the words on what each number in the scale describes would have a potentially large and positive impact on how MAL users rate their anime. However the post has gone unnoticed (not even so much as the typical "this idea can't be feasibly implemented" comment) so I am essentially copy-pasting it here for reference.

I think it would be an easy and effective change and would like to hear people's thoughts on it. I thought of the idea as I was comparing someone's anime list to my own and saw how some of my favorite shows had pretty low scores. I had to reflect on my own list for a while, with thoughts such as "did I think this show was THAT subpar?" It occurred to me that the reason why my ratings were that way is because MAL's system essentially suggests you assess the quality of the show (using words like fine, awful, masterpiece) and that I was therefore trying to objectively rate the shows regardless of my enjoyment. Most of the anime blu rays sitting on my shelf are 5's and 6's if we go by MAL's rating guide. I also noticed that on occasion MAL users will comment on users whose average mean score is above 7, suggesting they either have low standards or only watch things that they already know they love. Another thing I noticed is that 10's are either too easily awarded (suggesting users are already scoring based on enjoyment and not quality) or rarely awarded at all (many MAL users take the guide words to heart and use their rating to assess the quality of the show).

I tagged this as being related to MMO junkie because I think this anime best showcases why I think users should rate based on enjoyment rather than quality. That show clearly has a lot of issues that will most likely keep it in the "anime flavor of the month" zone like Kiss Him Not Me was, and so its average rating on MAL will heavily dip accordingly. I know more than a few people who watched this and laughed every step of the way, only to scroll down the score options and hesitate selecting a score which represents how much they loved the show. Which makes no sense to me - we have rating guide words which suggest we assess quality, but then a title's overall rating and rank is represented as a popularity thing. If the end result is popularity-based anyway (not to be confused with the literal popularity ranking MAL also does for their titles), why don't we just change those words next to the 1-through-10 options to guide users into telling the site how much they liked it? This will especially help users who are looking for recommendations - people tend to look for shows they'll enjoy and not masterpieces, so it would better serve them if the scores reflected overall enjoyment of a series instead of how man people thought it was a masterpiece.

Anyway, sorry for being long-winded, the following below is what I submitted as a suggestion.

The guide words for the various rating scores (masterpiece, great, very good, etc) tend to be misleading for various reasons -

1 - What person A thinks is a masterpiece isn't the same as what person B thinks is a masterpiece

2 - "average" for many would either be a 7 or under a 5. Average ratings for many users is way above 5 and can suggest the average is at the very least "good". Then you have the other side of the coin, with some users who believe the average quality is really bad except for the ones they enjoyed (you see this a lot with either fans who believe all old anime is bad or fans who believe all new anime is bad).

3 - most people aren't going to watch stuff they suspect they'll find to be horrible anyway, unless they're paid to or it's a part of their social media presence to watch and review stuff.

So I suggest a simple solution: instead of guide words which ask the user to evaluate their perceived quality of the title in a way that doesn't translate well to others, change the guide words to transform the rating system into a scale of how much the use enjoyed or disliked the title.

How this addresses the above issues:

1 - we're no longer unintentionally calling things masterpieces, and we're no longer getting false impressions that users think their 10-rated shows are flawless (I mean, there isn't such a thing as a flawless title anyway.) Overall the ratings will be much more sincere and honest, because giving something a 1 would no longer be a quality appraisal but rather a statement of how poorly one received it.

2 - addressing issue 2 would yield multiple benefits. First, in that scenario which many users rate almost everything a 7 or better, we can look at individual title lists and better gauge a user's tastes more honestly. For instance when we notice that a user consistently gives shounen low ratings, we can now assess that data as "they just don't enjoy shounen as much" instead of entrenching ourselves in "why do you think [these critically acclaimed shounen] are bad?" Second, since one of the primary reasons to rate titles in one's list is for personal reference, it allows users to better track their own ratings. i.e. my list suddenly becomes a tier system of my most enjoyed shows to least enjoyed shows. Easier to rate shows that way than struggling over which ones are masterpieces (yes Im repeatedly using that word as an example lol)

3 - while implementing this change may not compel users to watch shows they're sure to heavily dislike, we can expect to start seeing more honest low scores due to low enjoyment or entertainment value. We will also see some shows which are popular but have middling scores to be rated higher, because tbh most users enjoy shows which are often considered objectively bad. And it's okay if we do - that's why I think ratings should be an appraisal of personal enjoyment and not an assertion of perceived quality (or lack thereof).

A big question which I don't have a sure-fire answer for would be "why make the change at all?" And while I am confident in this change being able to improve the MAL user experience, I concede that it is a valid question. In my view it is a worthwhile change for not just the reasons I stated above, but also because a part of the MAL user experience is to recommend and seek recommendations for new things to read and watch. We are often engaged in such dialogue in the forums, and looking through the top anime/manga lists. Taking a bunch of subjective assessments of being a masterpiece or being average and converting it into a collective opinion of popularity doesn't translate so well. We can infer quality from such score averages but we cannot always infer enjoyment of such titles (i may have implied before but it bears saying that there are plenty of current reasons current MAL scores don't imply personal enjoyment). If we change those guide words and ratings system to something along the lines of "how much did you enjoy this title," the averages in the "top" lists will be a more honest and accurate aggregation of how titles are subjectively perceived by users.

While I doubt this is the best possible explanation of my idea (I'm writing this in the wee hours) and I doubt even more that it will convince anyone, I have a strong conviction that the site's user experience can benefit from the change. Thanks for reading the whole thing lol
Posted by Crusader_8 | Dec 26, 2017 1:21 AM | 0 comments
December 19th, 2017
Anime Relations: Net-juu no Susume
I love them and I hate them. If you believe an mmo anime:

- all mmo's are cutesy/colorful/pleasant-looking
- character models are deeply expressive
- trolls are the exception and not the rule
- the really nice player you've teamed up with not only turns out to live very close to you IRL, but will also just so happen to be the love of your life!

the real-life experience of playing an mmo is so vastly different from what anime makes it out to be. I was super-tempted to start playing an mmo because of MMO Junkie, but then I remembered most people are online to hurt you for their own amusement. That meeting internet friends IRL is largely a pipe dream. And so on. It's kind of disappointing, because anime makes all these mmo games seem so rewarding and fulfilling. I only wish it were true XD
Posted by Crusader_8 | Dec 19, 2017 11:55 PM | 2 comments
March 27th, 2017
Anime Relations: 3-gatsu no Lion
This show called March Comes In Like A Lion makes me want to buy a Shogi set and teach myself and some friends how to play. Just like how I wanted to order a karuta set after watching Chihayafuruu. Japanese strategy games just seem so more interesting than western ones. Or perhaps it's the culture of the players: in America, everyone is a d-bag about playing to win. Like in MTG, Risk, video games, etc. I've only ever met a handful of people who play to win in a respectful and even inspiring manner. It's why I always shied away from playing Street Fighter and Guilty Gear competitively despite being capable of doing so.

Just gotta find the right environment to thrive. Who knows, maybe the return of Legend of the Five Rings may usher in the kind of gamer culture I seek. Though the previous iteration of L5R was a victimhood contest of whose clan was the most nerfed.

Anyway, watch March Comes In Like A Lion. It's a good show and does a good job of mixing cute with drama.
Posted by Crusader_8 | Mar 27, 2017 10:51 PM | 2 comments
March 22nd, 2017
Anime Relations: Shinsekai yori
Aka the most convoluted anime I've ever watched. Not sure why people find it deep or compelling. I'm not even sure what the writer is trying to say with this story: is it anti-humanity? Is it anti-technology? Is it just trying to be a convoluted fantasy epic? Why are the characters so boring? Why do characters avoid explaining important things when they have clear opportunity and motive to without consequence? So many questions, very few answers.
Posted by Crusader_8 | Mar 22, 2017 11:00 PM | 3 comments
March 21st, 2017
Anime Relations: Boku dake ga Inai Machi
I'm going to watch Erased now, because it receives so many 10's despite criticism and it just makes me wonder. It makes me ask lots of questions.

Why are you calling half of what you watch a "masterpiece?" Is most of what you watch REALLY a masterpiece? Are all your shows with 10's equally perfect?

If one can be better than the other, doesn't that bump down the latter show to a 9?

Do you ever revisit your old 10's to realize your appraisal of the show was 99% hyperbole and emotional response?

Can anything really be considered a "masterpiece?"

Go back through your list and make some 9's and 8's happen. Go back and re-evaluate your opinion of Erased, too.
Posted by Crusader_8 | Mar 21, 2017 11:06 PM | 2 comments