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.
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”.
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.
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?
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.