Celebrating the Mediocre Anime

I really like the word mediocre. I wish it hadn’t unjustly been saddled with vaguely negative connotations. I think mediocre is so much more fun to say than average.

random image that means nothing

random image chosen for no particular reason

Now that I think of it. Average and o.k. are also not always seen as particularly positive. I don’t know if this is a reflection of the society I live in or a sign of the times but it so sometimes seems that anything that isn’t AMAZING is just not worth your time. I live in this world of heightened positivity and hyperbole. Heck I’m a clear and enthusiastic spokesperson of that world.

However, I think we may have lost a proper sense of scale along the way. Very few anime are truly masterpieces. Very few are complete garbage. The overwhelming majority of anime (as in all things) are varying degrees of middling. But because we have self conditioned to be generous in our assessments average scores on aggregate sites are 7 instead of 5. (Probably slightly higher than 7 at that). We view the average “5”, as horrible. I know I’ve never given a score below 4 myself.

And this tendency goes beyond wrecking grading curves. Reviews that call shows standard, average, mediocre always feel compelled to explicitly point out that it doesn’t mean it’s bad and still feel like an encouragement to skip the series. So as soon as we find anything noteworthy about an anime, we start calling it great and perpetuating the cycle. “Everyone’s special”.

Special A

I’m off my picture game today

That’s just not true. We all know it. Being a competently made anime is a good thing. Telling a nice little story is fine. If you only watch the best then you can only see a single show!

Besides, if every single series had to be visually stunning, it would take an enternity to make. Intricately detailed designs and backgrounds are really difficult to animate! An Oscar worthy performance can become illusion destroying if it’s not part of a cast that can keep up with it. The cost of making anime would skyrocket!

But it’s not only dull practical considerations that should make you appreciate the “alright” more. There are some intellectual and emotional advantages to a middle ground story. Brilliant and intelligent plots take some effort to be properly appreciated. You need to think about what’s happening. Emotionally visceral tales can get draining and though for your poor little heart.

Those narratives that completely captivate us also take little pieces of us with them. We get mesmerized and completely focused on them. We get attached to the characters as if they were almost real. We share their pains and celebrate their joys. Those are little one sided relationships and relationships always take a bit out of you.

anime re-ationship

am I the only one worried for that phone?

For instance, I’m an avid binge watcher. I know, I should be careful of anime bulimia. However I’ve noticed that there are very few of my favorite shows that I can binge. I need to take a breath between episodes. Let the story linger, get my bearings. And those that are paced in such a way as to allow continuous consumption, I miss terribly once they’re over and need a few shows as palette cleansers before I can devote myself again!

And sometimes you just need something fun to take your mind off things when you get home exhausted and burnt.

This is when the run of the mill anime comes in. Those series that are nothing special really but nevertheless fun and pleasant. Series that ask nothing of the audience and are just happy to be there. Those anime we heartlessly discard and instantly forget once they’re over but they still provided us with joyful entertainment while they could.

I think we don’t give these shows the credit they’re due. Mostly because we’ve forgotten about them… Light, unobstructive entertainment is a virtue in its own right. I’m really running out of vocabulary here, how many ways can you say average? What is this mysterious thesaurus you speak of?

dinosaur

is this it?

Since I’ve started reviewing anime. A sisyphean task. I’ve come to really realize this. Not only does having to watch anime regularly and closely enough to review it get demanding on the ok noggin, so you really get an appreciation for a show that you can just watch a little mindlessly and still get a lot of enjoyment out of. Those shows become a bit of a lifeline. But after finishing one and being deeply grateful for the pleasant break it provided, you can’t even do it justice…well I can’t.

Was this whole post just to whine about my shortcomings as a reviewer? Huh… Moment of self realization! I’m glad you guys are here for it. Ok, so here’s the puzzle we’re dealing with. How do you review an average show you enjoyed but is still average?

It’s a bit of a conundrum. If you focus on the positive and make it sound absolutely exceptional, you risk setting expectations too high and viewers will end up liking the show less than they normally would, due to disappointment. Worse case scenario, your readers could start to distrust your opinions.

If you make sure to keep those expectations reasonable, you can often sound like you’re discouraging people from seeing it, no matter how many times you say it’s great. This has happened to me a lot. Especially when I point out what I believe to be flaws in popular series. I do pros and cons in all my reviews (even Natsume so there!).

You see my problem? I can count on one hand series I’ve actually disliked. If I throw in my other hand I can count the masterpieces. Everything else is in the middle. And being a middle ground anime is still GREAT! some of us aren’t even anime at all. Now that’s truly sad.

robot girls z

sorry, this post got away from me….

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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31 Responses

  1. TPAB~ says:

    the mediore ones need to exist for sure, and reviewers need to see them as well. you can’t avoid them. i started out the same, thinking shows that deserve a 5 would get a 7. overtime, i just learned to grow impatient and be honest about sh*t hhaha.
    but yeah, love them boring mediocres, enjoy the truly bad ones and appreciates the middlings ones because they offer variety.

    • Irina says:

      I always thought you were a very optimistic reviewer. I may have just fallen on all the shows you thought were great!

      • TPAB~ says:

        I’m more of a numb reviewer at this point, but I’m just a really nice person to the core, to my own detriment admittedly. haha

  2. I completely agree the sense of scale is heavily skewed and I think it is very, VERY important to reconfigure that scale. Especially as critics. However, I completely disagree that we need mediocre anime to unwind after a solid, thought-provoking series. In all honesty, I think it’s silly to think it takes effort to watch… Anything! It contradicts the existence of coach potatoes. I just don’t believe that after a hard day’s work exhaustion remains festering whilst watching something that is supposed to be “complex”. There’s just no such thing as watching something for the sake of “turning your brain on/off”. It’s similar to finding it daunting to see the number of episodes One Piece has. Because when you decide to watch One Piece you almost trick yourself into believing you have to watch ALL of One Piece. Yet, there’s no deadline for finishing it. So, really it’s not that daunting of a task. You can turn on an episode of One Piece every day of your life and if hopefully nothing happens, you will finish it eventually. I’d describe it more as an illusory need to analyze an anime/tv-show etc. to the point of expectations.

    • Irina says:

      I have a feeling that you are younger and more intellectually aile than I am. I have noticed that I will occasional fail to notice details or truly appreciate all the layers, thematics or implications of a story if I am too tired (or too drunk…) I assume that is up to individual neurochemistry mind yu but I’d be sad if I was the only one with uneven focus.

      • I don’t know about being that much younger but I think a lot of people especially in this community has entered an era where we overvalue perceptive analysis. And a lot of it is based on people who’ve either only made a few good analysis vids\posts or aired the idea that they’re good at it by making arbitrary statements such as “Stein’s;Gate is one of the few shows that accurately depicts time traveling” despite such a thing being literally impossible. I miss stuff as well. But that doesn’t mean I should force myself to “get it”. For me, that would imply constantly rewinding/rewatching. TV just wasn’t meant for that. Communication is probably a better medium for such a thing.

  3. There are plenty of mediocre anime that I love to sit back and chill out with, but you’re right about the bias against ‘okay’ and ‘average’, I use ‘good’ as the middle value of my review scale because I feel like if I use anything else people will just dismiss the show.
    Also that thesaurus joke killed me.

  4. “How do you review an average show you enjoyed but is still average?”

    I usually find out by accident that a show I really like is considered “average.” The Asterisk War, for example, is one of my favorite shows of all time? I can even tell you why!

    But Anilist gives the show a 65%.

    Anlist gives Re:CREATORS a 73%. I think it’s the perfect series.

    Does that mean I can’t point out its flaws? Nope. But I’ve conducted academically critical studies of the Christian Bible and can point out narrative flaws in, for example, Genesis. It’s fun to watch the Yahwist and Priestly traditions contradict one another, often within the space of a few passages.

    If you can find those kinds of errors in one of the most historically important documents on Sol III, then you can find them anywhere.

    That’s the point. I can find flaws in anything. But that’s not enjoyable (for me! — YMMV) in the long run.

    For me, it comes down to this: I like what I like. I love readings the opinions of others, but they have zero effect on what I like — or admit to liking! So I proudly proclaim that I like what others call mediocre anime.

    Many of those are gems to me!

    • Irina says:

      well when you don’t think they’re average that’s a lot easier. I often find myself watching anime and enjoying because I like anime… The show isn’t really better than dozens of others out there and there’s no objective reason to chose that one over another but I still liked it. It might be a me thing mind you. I do stand by my love of ok shows!

  5. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    Wait, did you really just post a pic from Robot Girls Z–a pic of Gre-chan, no less!–in a post about mediocre anime?! Irina, how could you?! I mean, I still love you and all, but Ima go into the cry closet for a few hours. . .how could you?! You’re being so mean! (All Gre-chan ever wanted was some donuts–is that really so bad? You didn’t seem to mind them in Shirobako. . .) *sniffle, sniffle, sob!

    • Irina says:

      I was illustrating “got away from me”… it’s not that easy to do. cause of her gloves and all….

  6. I think I tend to exaggerate whatever reaction I have when I put it into words, which is why I have to pick my ratings carefully (and it’s why I don’t review stuff more often). Then again, I want to at least attempt to finish anything that’s mediocre or upwards, which…doesn’t work out when your ideal watching speed involves pacing yourself.

    For me, 6/10 is average because that says there’s enough value to stick around. 5/10 is mostly for things I drop that I’m aware may simply be a case of execution or dependent on mood (this latter thing is mostly for comedies or particularly great seasons)…but then that’s messing with my intention of creating a ratings graph with peaks at 3/10 and 8/10.

    • Irina says:

      when I look at my ratings my average if around 7/10 – if I was honest I would need to grade most stuff down a couple of points

  7. Dawnstorm says:

    I’m down to 21 or 22 anime this season (I’m not sure what I’ve really dropped yet), and that’s the lowest number since… 2011? If you watch that many anime a season, you’re going to be watching a lot of unexceptional stuff. I appreciate those shows. They help me unwind before/after work and are thus important to my piece of mind. As such, I tend to drop shows when they start annoying me too much. And these are often shows I also enjoy more than what I’m still watching, but they go because they also annoy me.

    When I’m looking at Karandi’s examples from this season, the Midnight Occult Civil Servants is more of an uneven show – the sort that avarages out but has potential. It’s definitely its own thing and well worth watching for what it is. On the other hand, Wise Man’s Child is pretty much the poster book of competent status quo. It’s charming, fun to watch, silly as soon as you think too much, and forgettable. I like them both, but I’d have to say they’re avarage in different ways. Midnight Civil Servants is more of a rough gem, while Wise Man’s Child is more candy floss. I’m grateful for both this season.

  8. Karandi says:

    There’s a lot of mediocre anime that I’m watching this season and yet I’m enjoying them and the season despite it not having some of the sensation of previous seasons. Midnight Occult Civil Servants and Wise Man’s Grandchild are about as average as they come in terms of anime within their respective genres yet both are keeping me quite entertained.
    There’s definitely worse things than being mediocre.

  9. Artemis says:

    I know a lot of people view anime they give around a 5/10 bad, but just personally speaking, I consider it… well, average, since that’s what the score actually reflects. It’s for just that reason that, whenever I review an anime that I gave an average-ish score to, I talk about the things that worked for me as opposed to only the things that didn’t. I’ve definitely rated PLENTY of shows as under a 5/10 score, but those are ones I consider to be decidedly below average, and often dramatically so.

  10. Dewbond says:

    Medicore anime is good, mediocre anime keeps the industry alive.

    There is a great quote said on the time when President Harry Truman came into office. “After a diet of caviar, it’s good to get back to ham and eggs,”

    We don’t need every anime that comes out to the next big thing, that’s frankly too exhausting and puts unfair pressure on creators to tell stories they may not want to tell. Fans too shouldn’t try to bring in too many unrealistic expectations into a show that never wanted to be something it wasn’t (this is my problem with Shinmai Maou no Testament)

    Shows like Date A Live, Isekai Smartphone, Black Cat, etc are an essential part of the anime diet and should be embraced. Sometimes good is good enough.

  11. Scott says:

    I think all we can do is be honest with how we feel about a show and maybe add in who we think the show in question is for.

    It’s really hard because people like me want to see the best sort of shows. That doesn’t mean dropping when they turn out to be average, but it’s hard to to motivated to watch something when it’s just eh.

  12. Great point, and it’s something I’ve been saying about a couple of shows this season. An anime, or any entrainment, doesn’t have to be ground breaking art to serve its purpose. There’s plenty of stuff I find entertaining that doesn’t have the best animation, and stuff I watch because it’s fun and not too taxing.

    In a recent interview to promote ‘The Hustle’, Ann Hathaway said something among the lines of ‘if you can value the genius works, you can still value the fun silly stuff’. And I think that’s an important thing to remember.

    • Irina says:

      Definetly. Now I just have to figure out how to say – you should really see this series – it’s nothing special….

  13. marthaurion says:

    i have a fairly similar approach in that i dont tend to give shows scores below 3 or 4 because i feel like there’s always at least some sense of value that someone could take from any show. i also see it as a balancing act. it’s hard for me to justify a belief that critiques can be found for any show if i dont simultaneously believe that praises can be found for any show. it only seems fair.

    • Irina says:

      That’s true. It’s unfortunate that anything other than full blown unequivocal praise is too often seen as condemnation in reviews.

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