I don’t know if you guys have gone through this at some point. You just finished an anime. You thought it was a good production. The designs were unusual enough to be interesting but still quite pretty. The colours were very saturated and lush. The animation was generally fluid. Sure there were a few hiccups here and there with angles or something, but there were some stunning scenes as well and great use of light and shadow.

And you’re about to write your review so you look up a few facts about the production. Maybe take a look at the wiki page. And you see that so and so of ANN called the production subpar or the animation low framerate or something. And suddenly, you start thinking, wait, did I really like the way it looked? OK, most people don’t do that, but I do.

strong start!

To be fair, it happens less now that I’ve been doing this for a while. But when I started reviewing anime, I honestly hadn’t really developed my eye that much. There were tons of details that I missed. And I referred to people with more experience and a better sense for visuals. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as I don’t go overboard.

At the end of the day, if I think designs look pretty and I like them, it doesn’t matter if I am the only person in the universe who thinks so. But I can sometimes admit that animation might have looked more spectacular to me because I was really wrapped up in the story or just in the scene. Or I like the way a character is written so I overlook how inconsistent the model is. Don’t we all think people are suddenly way more attractive once we start getting a little crush? I’m the same with anime.

And you see, I think those early days of doubting my own eyes have taught me a lot. They’ve taught me how to look at anime while I’m watching it. And for me, that’s a very valuable lesson.

watching anime is serious stuff

Of course, it’s not necessary to do so to discuss or review anime. There are fantastic reviewers that don’t even touch on production values in their reviews. I feel like a review or critique tends to be better and much more engaging when the author is discussing elements that they find interesting. And even if there are aspects that I get fascinated by, I don’t enjoy reading about them as much if it feels like the person behind the post was just trying to fill space and they added in words like this was a school paper. It takes the fun out of the experience.

But for me, it’s helped me discover aspects of anime I enjoy a lot. And help me appreciate them more. So for a long time, I would see these reviews or comments by professional anime critics, or even by my fellow amateur bloggers, and I would completely reevaluate my own views and experience.

I would go over screencaps of the show (my own if I had any but I only started taking them a couple of years ago) and see if I maybe was wrong about the colours. I would compare designs to determine if they were in fact derivative. I would go back over fight scenes and action sequences carefully to see if the animation lagged or jumped at any point.

this might be a fail but not an animation fail!

I’m making myself sound way more diligent than I am. I wouldn’t do this every time. I just did it once in a while. Either because it was a show I really liked and I wanted to look at pictures and scenes of it anyways. Or because our opinions were so drastically different that it made me wonder if we had watched the same show.

And sometimes, I did see something I’d missed. I noticed that the characters of one series do look really a whole lot like the characters from another. Or after watching a specific cool move three times in a row and having the novelty entirely wear off, I did see that the animation is in fact kind of clunky and the hands start looking like pincers or something at one point. These are made-up examples, don’t ask me which anime I’m referring to. However, I’m sure both of these apply to many different titles.

After a while, maybe a year or so, it started to get a little ingrained. I started to actively look for these things as I was watching the series to begin with. Not exactly actively, unless I was bored of course. More like something would catch my eye in one episode and I now knew what I wanted to look for in the next episodes. Like a scene where someone’s limbs seem to elongate in movement. Well, now I had developed the instincts of seeing if it happens again, checking if it’s only for certain characters, seeing what type of action is taking place. And eventually, seeing if it’s narratively significant in some way. Before, I would have probably written cool scene and left it at that.

Haikyuu To The Top had some fantastic animation

For those that have been here for a while, you know how much I enjoy anime that incorporate all production levels into the story itself. It’s just so cool!

And I have to say, if I hadn’t developed those skills (is skills the word I’m looking for here. Watching a screen doesn’t really seem like a skill. Neurosis maybe) I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the Garden of Sinners movies anywhere close to how much I did. The production is just fantastic on all of them. Or Fire Force. I like Fire Force as an adventure well enough but I have no interest in reading the manga. However, the scene composition of Fire Force is some of the most exceptional I’ve laid eyes on in any medium. I have reviewed every episode simply because I want to chat about what I saw.

I’m now at a very comfortable spot where when I read a review or post by someone else who seems to have seen something completely different I’ll try and figure out why, maybe even go look as well, but I won’t assume I’ve missed something. And generally, it won’t affect my own opinion or experience. I no longer doubt my eyes.

maybe I should…

But the great thing, the reason I wanted to write about it, is how this has spilled out into the rest of my life. I noticed that I am much more comfortable and confident when buying clothes because I sort of know what looks good on me and why. Like I know the shapes and colours that would suit me. I even buy glasses online without trying them on and I have never gotten a dud.

I can go to an art gallery with fancy friends who know all about the historical settings and social influences for each genre and discuss them with long fake sounding words and stand by my own appraisal. My knowledge of classical art is limited, but I bet I’m way better at understanding what I like visually and why. I have been practicing that expertise every day for years now. I’m about to be a master in stuff Irina thinks is pretty.

It sounds easy. Like something, anyone can do instinctively. But it’s not. Sometimes you see something and you love it but you can’t explain why. Not that you don’t have the vocabulary for it, you literally don’t know why. Or sometimes you think you like a piece and a month later you realize that you don’t anymore. Maybe you never did.

After a lot of time and practice, most of the time I know why I like visual pieces. At least enough to superficially explain it to someone else. And I can tell when something is going to get old or I just like one aspect but the whole is sort of meh. I developed this by watching and reviewing a lot of anime. When I noticed, I thought it was really cool so I wanted to tell you guys about it!

12 thoughts

  1. I think the trap we all fall into every now and then (especially when we’re new at something) is that if someone comes up with a view that is different from or even critical of ours, that must mean they know more than we do, or that we made a mistake somewhere along the line. And sometimes that is true – there are plenty of folks out there who know a hell of a lot more about any given subject than I do, and who can point (with varying levels of graciousness) to something I may have gotten wrong.

    However, just because someone might be technically more learned than ourselves (and here, I mean “technically” in the sense of knowing more about the objective facts of a subject, such as the methods and processes of animation) that doesn’t make our appreciation of a particular anime series or feature any less valid. It can give us more information to perhaps develop a more nuanced view of things, or revisit an old subject with new eyes – but that doesn’t mean we should automatically assume that our initial response was “wrong” and that we need to radically overhaul our viewpoint.

    Trust me – I am no relativist. I don’t for a moment accept the view that just because everyone has their own “truth” that makes each “truth” equally “valid”. But I do think there is something to be said for the emotional “gut response” we have to things that conveys “truths” that cannot be explained in strictly logical or rational terms. And sure, as I’ve said above, technical information can then be used to “fill in the gaps”, as it were, to make our initial response more cohesive and explicable. But it can’t explain that initial response or bring it into being – that response is very much its own thing.

    And that, I think, points to the next mistake we often make: the assumption that we need to explain ourselves in technical or logical/rational terms in order to justify our aesthetic choices. I can’t explain to you why cherry blossoms or trees leafed out in their full Autumnal splendour full me with such a crazy mix of elation and sorrow. I am aware of the hurts and the ecstasies in my heart they touch upon, the existential joys and disquiets to which they give voice. But no amount of arboreal knowledge or cultural/historical insight is going to make explicable that profound sense of what the Japanese call “mono no aware” – the poignant beauty of life’s transience – these things fill me with. It just is its own thing, and all I can do is go with that.

    At the end of the day, I think this all points to the tricky balancing act we must all perform: the need to both trust our own judgement and be open to the wisdom of others (as well as possessing the discernment to know when we are being self-deceiving and others are talking BS). So I am glad that watching anime has taught you to trust your own eyes, and that you are now at the point where you know what you like and what works for you. I still write every review I post with the basic assumption that I don’t know s**t about anime – but that showing off “what I know” isn’t the point, either. My posts are about my reaction to a particular series or feature – and if you have a reaction that’s different to mine, that’s cool, too…even if I might think you are wrong and you might think I don’t know what I’m talking about! 😀

    1. I’m not sure we need to explain ourselves for artistic preferences. I do like understanding my own though. For my personal benefit. Even if it does occasionally boil down to my cones currently react more to the frequency of the colour pink or something boring like that. And I have to admit that although I have no issue with people liking an anime cause they like it, I do enjoy reading reviews that go into it a bit more. Just because it makesit easier for me to figure out if I woudl also enjoy it, you know?

      I do think you’re completely right though. Balancing confidence with open-mindedness is the key and it’s not easy.

      Great comment. I refuse to beleive you don,t know what you’re talking about.

      1. Oh, I totally get where you are coming from. In depth analysis from folks who know their stuff is always great to get your teeth into. Actually whets the appetite for seeing the stuff they talk about (well, mine anyway).

        And yeah, eye cones rule. Mine react to purple and black and silver – which, according to some psychotherapists means I have deep-seated problems. But what do they know?

        And trust me – ignorance is my middle name. The trick is making you think I know what I’m talking about… 😛

  2. It is certainly a skill. And while I have nibbled at the edges of it as I learned more about anime, I read blogs like this FOR that level of skill that someone who REALLY WATCHES anime has that I, as a dabbler, do not. Because I’m pretty sure at some semi-sub-conscious level my brain does indeed compute and analze and appreciate all that. But the main reason I read THIS blog, and something i am really grateful for, is the constant insight into things like color pallettes, to Japanese culture, that has informed and added to the pleasure I have in watching anime. And yes, I find that this appreciation has spilled over to watching live action shows, and even my reading. You school me, girl, and I love it 😀

  3. It’s cool to see real life skills spill over into real life. I’m not sure I have anything like that.

    I think a post about visual prowess is a good opportunity for the old screenshot guessing game?

    Vanitas (?) – Chronicles of the Going Home Club – Yuru Yuri (?) – Love Lab – Haikyuu (I’m not sure I could have guessed the season if the caption didn’t give it away) – Code Geass

    Interestingly, not a single “no clue” or “tip-of-tongue” this time, though a couple I’m unsure about. The Going Home Club show was and is underrated.

  4. Definitely true, when I rewatch an anime again/ stop it almost every frame, there are lots of things in the anime I see differently. Apart from the art and transitions as you mentioned, sometimes I just close my eyes, and listen to the voice acting/ background music as well. There are just so much time and effort put into all the detailing works of an anime. Ups to this post, and to all the hard work all those animators put into animating all those various works for us.

Leave me a comment and make my day!