This may be difficult to believe given the contents of my blog, but I actually prefer writing reviews. I love reading essays, news articles and think pieces of all types but as far as creating goes, I tend to like my reviews more. To each his own of course, I know a lot of bloggers who consider writing reviews rather tedious and have abandoned it altogether. However, and despite all evidence to the contrary, this blog is still primarily a place to keep my thoughts on anime.
As such, I have occasionally tried to ferret out some magic formulae to creating the most Amazing, Super Awesome review, every single time… Clearly, I’ve figured it out. You’re welcome world!
Ok, ok, maybe I could still use some fine tuning here and there. Although not as obviously creative as a poem, a good review still has a lot of artistic elements to it, and therefore, I think that the components that make up a great one are personal to the reviewer and vary from one to the next. But are the basics of any good written article also applicable to reviews?
I was asking myself this question and I honestly don’t know the answer. I’ve read up on my fellow bloggers posts on what makes a good review and also what makes a good post and I decided I would share the commonalities and discrepancies I’ve picked up on.
“Try to keep the grammar fairly correct and the typos to a minimum.” Obviously, I’m not particularly bothered by this one. While some bloggers recommend devoting a good deal of attention to this aspect, personally I think it’s fine as long as your readers can easily follow along and understand your point.
Admittedly, I should proofread my stuff a bit more. I make a lot of very basic typos/grammatical errors and I’m always just a touch mortified at how many I publish. On the other hand, when I see them in other people’s posts, not only do they not bother me but occasionally I find that they add a touch of personality to the text. It’s a bit like listening to someone talk with an accent while using strange sentence structure. Some people get terribly annoyed by it, I find it utterly charming. This applies to any posts whether reviews or essays.
“Break you points/thoughts up into reasonable paragraphs.” Again, this is a fairly universal tip. Extremely long blocks of texts are unpleasant visually and tend to be tedious to read. I do this somewhat subconsciously for my posts. Since I write as if I’m having a conversation with someone, my paragraph breaks are inserted where I would take a breath and give the other person a chance to speak.
My breaths are short….
One thing that is particularly relevant to reviews is the amount of information you need to disclose. Essays generally discuss a fairly precise if abstract topic. You simply need to define said topic and you can go about framing your thesis around that. Reviews on the other hand, directly reference and critique a complete work and therefore require a careful balancing act when it comes to describing the show, book or game you are reviewing. If you go into too much detail, your review runs the risk of becoming unbearably long or ending up as a recap rather than an actual review. On the other hand, if you leave too much out, it can be difficult to follow and appreciate, even by readers who are familiar with the source.
The exercise of determining exactly what information is necessary for your audience is a rather complex one that requires the reviewer to put themselves in the shoes of a reader that may not have seen the show (movie, book…), and present them with enough information to get a proper sense of context, understand the basis of your review and potentially get an idea of the show without completely spoiling everything. It’s a particular analytical skill that isn’t really applicable to any other form of posts.
Moreover, there is some debate about the basic elements that reviews should cover. Should anime reviews always discuss the animation? What about plot? Can you enjoy a work purely on its production merits without even mentioning the story?
I have no answer here. I know that I read reviews both to see what someone has to say about a particular show I have seen and to discover new shows to watch. When I’m reading up on a show I’ve already seen, the only thing I care about is the opinion of the reviewer and how they reached those conclusions. I really want to get in their heads.
On the other hand, if it’s a show I haven’t seen, I like to have more background, get a general notion of the plot, maybe a point summary of pros and cons but the deep analysis isn’t that interesting to me as I haven’t formed my own opinion yet and I don’t want it spoiling or coloring my own watching experience.
And even though I love when pictures of the show are used, I still enjoy discussion of the technical elements. Part of me is very impressed by the actually work that goes into creating an anime and when someone takes the time to appreciate some practical elements, it always adds something to the end product for me. For instance, I remember the first time I saw Yuri on Ice. In one of the practice scenes, when Yuri is wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt as he tries out the routine, I noticed how the t-shirt wrinkled and stretched with his movements. Clothing rode up or sagged depending on his position. Shadows where al kept completely consistent with the light sources that was constantly changing as Yuri danced around. I found this absolutely hypnotizing and the thought that someone painstakingly added all of these details in is really what drew me into the series. I’ve mentioned this detail often. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one who noticed or cares…
Let’s face it, possibly more than any other type of posts, reviews run the risk of becoming routine. Reviewers going through a check list of points for any given work, ending up with posts that start to look very similar from one to the next. I think this probably bothers me less than most people. I have no issue with articles being predictable or looking alike. There are limits though. When the first episode of Citrus aired, it seemed it was fairly popular, and a huge number of bloggers gave their first impression on the show. Because only one episode had aired, there wasn’t yet that much material for anyone to base their opinion on. Accordingly, I ended up reading close to 30 reviews in the span of a few days that were pretty much all interchangeable. I honestly could have read 2 or 3 and it would have covered absolutely everything said in all 30 reviews (also they were almost all recaps).
This is where I see the need for creativity. I don’t mind a particular reviewer having a template and a schtick but I prefer when they have a little touch of personality, something to make their review stand out.
Some people will often relate works to real life experiences, telling us about moments in their own pasts that echoed with the characters in the story. Others will go into deep analysis of story elements or thematic constructs. Some will explore the history of the people behind the show, the studio and authors, ect. I make drinking games…
Alright, my personal style is a bit of a tradeoff. My reviews aren’t as useful as most. I still struggle with how much background info to add and tend to err on the side of none at all and I don’t give clear ratings. My few real-life friends who read this bog constantly ask me if there’s an easy way to see what I thought of a particular show (and see if they should watch it), and I direct them to my MAL page. As I mentioned above, my posts, specially my reviews, tend to be conversations.
So you’re gonna get the detail about how clothing was responsive in Yuri on Ice or how I adored the pink outlines in NGNL. I’ll let you know my real-life reactions to watching a particular scene and try to describe the sense of awe and wonder I can get from seeing imaginary people reach imaginary goals. If you read one of my reviews out of the blue for a show you’ve never seen, it might get you curious, but you’ll probably go read more reviews to get an actual idea.
What I’m hoping though, is that this impractical earnestness will allow you to understand me a little. In time, you’ll be able to say to yourself, well of course Irina liked it, she’s a sucker for those easy, sappy fluff shows but I find them boring, so I’ll pass this one. Or, Irina has no heart, I’m sure this romance is beautiful she just missed the point. Basically, I don’t hope to be your guide through the anime wonderland, I just want to walk along with you for a little while, and maybe stop for a drink in a sun-drenched terrace. We can watch the people walking by and talk about very important things that don’t matter at all.
Wait – I was talking about how to write reviews… Here’s a good piece of advice: Try to stick to the point!