I’m a Reviewer, Not a Critic or Irina Dodges Responsibility Again

Some of you may know that I generally write posts while travelling on public transit using my phone or tablet. For some reason the “word suggest” for what to write next, every time I type out my name is Shayk. I’ve never once chosen it but my devices refuse to give up hope. I’m starting to feel like I disappoint them every time I skip over the suggestion. I have extremely specific and inconsequential problems…

irina jelavic

it, never Jevalic and I write that all the time

For as long as I have been writing this blog, and therefore paying attention to articles that could help me craft a better post, I have been reading passionate essays on the responsibility of critics and the state of modern criticism. Much has been made on how CinemaSins has gone a long way to change (many say devalue) the art.

I won’t go through all the talking points but generally, most of these essays posit that criticism is both a skill and an art form that serves a specific purpose, to analyze art and inform the audience. A “true” critical review calls for a good dose of objectivity, proper research and a complete context, just like any other analysis. It also has to be presented in a way that is clear enough for the layperson in the audience to understand. Being entertaining is not particularly important for a critic.

There’s of course much more to it than that and the discussion on exactly what a critic is and does is quite interesting. I encourage you to google some articles for yourself if you want to find out more. As for the responsibility of the critic… The arguments that resonated with me most are these. We assign a lot of credibility to what we see as “experts”. Whether it’s in scientific, social or artistic fields, we tend to value the opinions of the guys in white coats. That’s not a bad thing but it does mean that their words are more likely to sway public opinion. A preliminary and inconclusive research paper can tank an entire company. A misspoken word can stoke discord among different social groups, so on…

Franken.Stein

maybe we should rethink that white coat bias

As for critics well it can affect the profitability of art, discouraging people from seeing a movie or attending a show. There’s a lot of debate on how much influence critics really have on box office numbers or gallery revenue, as some very badly rated movies were still enormous hits. This said, most people agree that they do have *some* influence though, and their impact is much more pronounced on little known or independent shows which may not have big names or a huge promotion budget to attract people.

Whatever the influence on the public may be, it does seem that critics do still have disproportionate importance to studios, producers, patrons and creators. There’s still a lot of industry clout associated with being a critical darling. You can consistently break all records at the box office but people will still scoff that you never won an Oscar. And this is where critics wield this surprising power over what will get released next. Creators court their opinions in order to get *official* recognition which influences what gets made, while studios, publishers or galleries want the prestige of being associated with an award-winning work which influences what gets released.

To sum it up, people attach more importance to a critic’s opinions on art than to the average person’s, so they have to choose their words more carefully (with great power and all that). Moreover, as their opinions have a direct impact on the state of the art and the industry, those opinions should be well researched and for the most part, definitive. Changing your mind later, after you’ve hurt ticket sales, might not be viable.

Like I said there are many arguments and takes on the issue. This one just happens to make sense to me. It’s a tricky situation. With all this supposed power, critics may be tempted to just be ultra positive about everything and avoid risking causing harm, but then they’re not critics anymore. They’re more like advertisers. It’s a tough position.

Monster Girls overwhelmed

I should add a qualifier here, wait, what if I use a happy face…

Thankfully, it’s not a position I find myself in. There are a few bloggers out there that claim the mantle of criticism. They describe their content as deeply researched analysis and aim for the credibility that goes with it. And they work very hard to earn it. Good criticism is difficult to put together on many levels and quite frankly I don’t think there’s enough actual anime criticism out there.  I’m very impressed by bloggers that can pull it off.

However, the majority of anime blogs (professional or not, mine included) and YouTube channels that I have come across, do not provide criticism. They provide reviews. Technically the words review and criticism are synonymous but I just couldn’t find a word for what I mean.

For the purposes of this post, I’m redefining reviews as a mix of impression and recap. I see a series and I tell you all what I thought of it and why. How it affected me, what it looks and sounds like. I give you a little taste of the story. It’s the exact same thing so many of us do when we watch a movie we really liked and run home to tell all our friends about it. I quite enjoy reading reviews as well. They feel more personal and generally give me a better idea of whether I want to see a show or not. I enjoy criticism (when I can find it) after I’ve seen something. To help me better understand it and get the most out of it, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy something.

If I take myself as an example, I will occasionally research specific elements that caught my interest in a show, I may get some background on the production but there are series I simply watch and review without any additional work. I’m also not trained or educated in any relevant field, so even if I had time for all the required work, I still wouldn’t be qualified for true criticism.

animegataris

exactly!

And there are a lot of content creators out there who just want to share their thoughts and experiences in anime with a similar minded audience and nothing more. My first reaction is that those same responsibilities shouldn’t apply to them. But a few comments have led me to believe that may be a bit too naive a point of view.

After all reviewers also have an audience and that means, for better or for worse, they can influence public perception. They may not hold any sway with the industry (although I believe that could well change soon enough), but they are not completely without impact either.

How do we reconcile that responsibility, with the fact that most of us do this for fun? If we were to put in all the hard work and time we might never get the chance to post. If we strive for fair-minded objective posts, we will lose our individuality and what makes our reviews special. With all the anime blogs out there, competing opinions is what makes them worth reading. Those generally stem from subjective viewings.

I don’t want to just completely throw out the notion that reviewers, even amateur ones such as myself, have some level of responsibility once we put our opinions out to the world. I just can’t quite figure out where the limits of that responsibility are and I haven’t found much on the subject at all. So I turn to you guys. I have been extremely lucky with my comments section and I’m hoping that continues. What do you think the responsibility of amateur reviewers is? How can we live up to it? Are there trends or habits of the aniblogging reviewer community that you think are either harmful or helpful?

Darling-in-the-Franxx

Irina

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

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31 Responses

  1. Shokamoka says:

    Appreciate the things we get to have rather than full-on complaining about the things we don’t – my number one rule right here yo yo.

  2. ManInBlack says:

    Critics seek to destroy because they feel they can, which is why I refer to myself a a reviewer. I also make a point of using the phrase “in this writer’s opinion”, “for me”, or “I felt” to make it explicitly clear this is an opinion not fact. Unfortunately, too many people fail to differentiate between the two in their articles.

    • Irina says:

      I try to. This said I generally don’t have a problem figuring out what is subjective. If anyone says this movie is boring for instance, that’s obviously an opinion

  3. “I don’t want to just completely throw out the notion that reviewers, even amateur ones such as myself, have some level of responsibility once we put our opinions out to the world.”

    I think you have a single responsibility, and that’s to be yourself.

    Your readers come to depend on that. They get to know your perspective, they get to know the things you like, and if it resonates with them, they keep coming back.

    Pete Davison makes a good point about us sometimes getting too hung up on definitions. At the end of the day, we’re building relationships, and if you continue to be you, I think you’ve fulfilled your side of the bargain.

    Pete Davison’s post about professionals got me thinking, too. Being a medical professional is one thing. Between associations like the AMA and medical science, it’s clear who’s _really_ professional and who’s not. Medicine is, for the most part, a science (at least in the West).

    The arts are very, very different.

  4. Beware of critics – or anyone in a white lab coat – who seem to have an interest in an outcome. A seeker of truth has no dog in the fight and doesn’t worry whether their conclusion advances or retards some worthy objective, be it advancing women’s rights or fighting global warming. It is easier for a camel to pass thru the eye of a needle than it is for an advocate to discover truth.

    It is for this reason I don’t get excited over what someone in a white coat tells me, for good or for ill.

    Unless they are telling they have no clothing on underneath.

    • Irina says:

      I think it’s safe to say the wordpress community is for now an uninterested party… Or people just don’t tell me anything

      • I don’t look to WP for disinterested analysis. I will say there hasn’t been a lot of dogma foisted of as fact or a lot of vocal hostility over disagreements. I don’t have a wide WP audience so my experience may not be representative. WP bloggers also tend to pack onto friendly communities, like little families. If I tried to move into a different circle, things might be different.

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    Hm, I’d say it doesn’t much matter what people call their texts, and the responsibilities they have is:

    – to speak their minds (and not rag on or praise a show just because it’s popular)

    and

    – to not present speculation as fact.

    I struggle with the latter, as I don’t always make a clear difference in my mind between the two. Half the time I’m living in my head rather than in the real world. As a result, I often wonder after the fact whether I should have included that tidbit in my reply at all. On the other hand, if I’d always refrain from posting when I’m uncertain I’d… never post again (except for joke posts).

  6. sabakuink says:

    Nice post Irina and I love the follow-up comments. As someone who makes a living writing in various styles, including for news and marketing channels, I have a few observations made over the (oof! too many) years. FWIW, the difference between critic and reviewer seems to be roughly as follows…
    Critics are (should be) more like journalists. Their responsibility is to do their homework and maintain an objective voice. If they do that, then the final article should encapsulate pretty much everything meaningful they have to say on the topic. Critics don’t usually engage in post-article comment threads. To begin with, once the article is posted, it’s time to move on to another project. And unfortunately, further engaging readers via online discussion is rarely productive because 99% of the commenters 1) have not done enough background research to provide an informed opinion, 2) have a pre-existing agenda to prove they are right and the article is wrong, or 3) are groupies/fanboys/fangirls who support the author’s opinion even in the face of contradictory facts. The biggest benefit of the comments is they provide feedback about reader engagement, emotional impact, etc. Most of this feedback is important for marketability, i.e., how many people are reading and what is the likelihood they will keep following a particular author. Haha, I could go on about how the need to maximize SEO and emotional impact has blurred the lines between factual, editorial, and commercial. But ugh… No!
    Social media reviews, such as blogs, include the ability for readers to post comments by design. This built-in interactivity reminds me of an old-fashioned book club. Like a book club where invited members meet at someone’s house for an afternoon to share their love of reading, blog reviews are intended to invite discussion from a typically consistent assemblage of followers. It is, as implied from the medium, supposed to be a social activity—sprinkled with off-the-cuff opinions, tangential topics, silly speculations, and other explorations of the imagination. There is no obligation for the reviewer to be objective or provide researched facts. The reviewer’s primary responsibility is to be honest, respectful, and non-judgmental. The biggest benefit gained from the comments is the discourse; one might even argue the discussion is more valuable or entertaining than the original article.
    And ditto to what David and Peter said: “Everybody just needs to calm down” and “Something something tired joke TED talk etc.” Haha, awesome! :-8

    • Irina says:

      Obviously my readers (commenters) have done their homework and then some. I’m always so grateful when someone takes the time to write up such an insightful comment. You’ve made this post better

  7. Scott says:

    I think you put things into word better then I could have ever imagined. I’ve said the same thing about never considering myself a critic.

    The more I think about it, can you really consider giving reviewers a responsibility? I guess maybe if they are a YouTuber and make money and a living selling their opinions to different audiences. That’s when the massive change happens. Or maybe before that when they have a larger audience that constantly returns to see what that person said about things.

    At the same time, I don’t think reviewers in general should have a responsibility. Especially when they just want to share their excitement to everyone about a thing they just watched.

  8. crazyidiot78 says:

    I really liked how you mentioned this problem in other areas like science. I am always working with my students to look at how science is or is not reported in the media, and what that means. Side note I liked your use of pictures in this one.

    • Irina says:

      Thank you! I put in more effort then justifiable in picking pictures.
      If I may ask, at which level do you teach?

  9. Wooderon says:

    Weirdly, I just posted something on a similar topic to this.

    I think people give themselves the title of critic far too quickly. Personally, I think you need to have a history of experience and clout within the industry of criticism and within that of the industry you criticise before you can really take on that moniker.

    The problem is, any influencer with enough reach scares the pants off of marketing departments, and so the loud angry Youtubers and Twitch Streamers begin to confuse their popularity with an expertise that usually isn’t actually there.

    My main peeve is the anonymous commentor who uses “criticism” as a shield to justify their oftentimes toxic personal opinion.

  10. 7mononoke says:

    Oh… yeah you made a lot of good points. I need to tak hobbyist anime critic off my profile because I just realized I’m not much of a critic in the sense you described. I should say I’m an anime reviewer, I guess?

    • Irina says:

      oh noes…Please don’t change it because of this silly post. If you’re a critic that’s awesome

      • 7mononoke says:

        Nah it’s not like it’s just thi post. Lately I’ve been thinking I’m still too new to anime to be a very good critic. Things like art I just totally have no eye for. But I’ll still be a “critic” in as far as trying not to let personal enjoyment alone decide my ratings for anime.

  11. David Majors says:

    Review and criticism, in the age of the angry YouTube Reviewer, may have lost its differentiation, yes. When I was reading your piece, Irina, I wanted to subconsciously Ctrl+F3 the word criticism with “critique”.

    I personally find nothing wrong with critique and wish it were more prevalent. I like seeing creators step out of their regular comfort zone and investigate something new. I like critiques. I like outside perspectives. Now, here’s the bugaboo.

    We are all competing for views and engagement. Bloggers, YouTubers, Podcasters. Whether we want to admit the uncomfortable truth, we are all competing for eyes, ears and clicks. And that usually involves a few different things. Being informed on the medium, and offering strong opinions while being able to deliver said informed and strong opinions in an entertaining manner. Because certain mediums require a baseline level of bombast to grab attention, we’ve entered an age where criticism has to be filled with caustic jokes and above-it-all snark to show a certain level of “objectivity”. It’s either that, or self-referential “I’m trash and I love this” humor for the properties we openly love. I’m really not a fan of either of those, and they really aren’t my style.

    I also don’t think every review (using it as a noun here) requires a personal essay, unless that’s simply the creator’s M.O. I could write about my personal feelings about Ergo Proxy and RahXephon, but I would put a disclaimer up in the first paragraph to let people know that my opinion on those anime are swayed.

    I think what is needed is to not be so dismissive of tempering our own emotions when reviewing or critiquing. We’ve forgotten that criticism isn’t inherently negative, hurtful or mean-spirited, but that often times drives traffic.

    If you like something, tell people what you liked about it. If you’re going to fangasm about something, say it upfront. If you’re going to eviscerate something, make it clear why without turning in to a Channel Awesome character.

    Everybody just needs to calm down, is what I’m saying.

  12. Pete Davison says:

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere before, I feel this is a subject that people get a bit too hung up on definitions with, but there are interesting discussions to be had for sure!

    The whole “critic” situation right now is a real mess — although you correctly point out that professional critics do have influence over the various industries that they write about, we’re starting to see increasing numbers of poorly researched, kneejerk reaction pieces that are given equal — if greater — weight than things that actually take the time to understand context and do more in-depth analysis.

    My experience is obviously mostly with the games industry rather than anime, but it’s especially pronounced there. Ever since a lot of commercial publications started pursuing what they called “New Games Journalism” back around 2010 or so, things have been on a decline for various reasons, but the way the industry reacts to the things the critics engaging in this model hasn’t changed accordingly, meaning we end up with mediocre and arguably undeserving critical darlings, and fantastic pieces of work that go unnoticed — or worse, censured — because they’re “problematic”.

    Let me rewind a bit and explain what I mean by New Games Journalism, because I’m sure it’s going on in anime, too; I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter criticise Anime News Network in particular for very similar reasons to those gaming enthusiasts use to criticise sites such as Polygon and Kotaku.

    New Games Journalism is based on the model a music critic called Lester Bangs set for music journalism throughout his life up until his death in 1982. Bangs’ writing set itself apart by being experiential — he put himself in the situation that he was reviewing, and often came across as a rather harsh critic in the process. Supposedly on one occasion, he even jumped on stage at a concert and started typing a review right there and then.

    This might sound all fine and dandy, especially for things as subjective as “the arts” (which I’m counting gaming among). Writing about your own personal response to things is all good, and indeed as you point out, that’s what a lot of us here on WordPress (and surroundings) do on a daily basis.

    But when you’re looked up to as a professional critic, there’s at least a basic expectation in place that you will engage with something on its own terms, analyse it on its own merits and acknowledge its context and technical achievements, rather than simply providing a kneejerk response based on immediate emotional reaction or, worse, prejudice. Unfortunately, the (largely unsuccessful, I’d argue) pursuit of Bangs-style writing in games journalism has led to a lot of this nonsense, which is what has alienated a lot of people (such as myself) from today’s mainstream sites.

    As I say, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with experiential writing, and it can be valuable under the right circumstances. But when game studios, movie studios, localisers and other men in suits are looking to professional critics to gauge “public response” to a work — as many still do — you don’t want someone with a big chip on their shoulder coming in and doing a hack job on something that treads on their own personal sensibilities. You want someone who can understand why the work exists, who its target audience is, and how and why it meets (or doesn’t meet!) those expectations.

    Thankfully, this situation is starting to change a bit in the smaller-scale, more niche ends of the business. Many modern Japanese game series have continued despite non-stop insults (and outright libellous statements in some cases) from Western game critics who clearly went into their review with no intention of giving the work a fair chance. Visual novel publishers and localisers have long since given up on mainstream sites, but are more than happy to give up review copies to people like me, who will explore these titles in the depth they deserve. And over the course of the last decade — starting well before the shitshow that was “GamerGate” — people have come to trust the commercial press less and less for various reasons.

    There’s not really a specific “right” or “wrong” way to review, engage in criticism, whatever you want to call it — but the expectation is there that you treat the thing you’re attempting to engage with fairly. If you give it a chance and still don’t get along with it, great; you can hopefully explain why (and hopefully without insulting people who disagree!). If you do enjoy something and it connects with you on a personal level, there should be no shame in celebrating that fact rather than trying desperately to pick fault just for the sake of it, as I see many people do today.

    As time goes on, I feel mainstream commercial sites will continue to decline in relevance as more and more people look for helpful, informative writing about a particular topic — or enthusiastic word-of-mouth by people who obviously know what they were talking about. Once upon a time, the “professionals” out there were the people who knew what they were talking about, but the situation is very different today, for better or worse.

    Something something tired joke TED talk etc.

    • Irina says:

      I knew I could count on you for an amazing comment.
      I of course know absolutely nothing about professional entertainment journalism but from the outside anime journalism is a little, let’s say unconsistent

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