I’m probably not alone in this. Let’s see, has this ever happened to you? You’re chatting with an anime fan or reading a post and they say something along the lines of if you like anime X then watch anime Y or anime X reminds me so much of anime Y. And then you think to yourself: really? I did not get that impression at all!
This happens to me pretty regularly. In fact, it’s happened to me twice very recently. I was talking with someone in the comments that called two shows essentially the same when they seemed almost opposite to me. And just the other day, I was reading someone suggesting that if you like My Dress-Up Darling, then you will definitely like Smile Down the Runway. And so many people were exclaiming about how right they were. But I was scratching my head.
And then I realized something most toddlers already know, we don’t take in media in the same way. Ok, I’m being silly. I of course know that we don’t all have the same takeaways from fiction and there are many different ways to read something like a season of anime. I guess the actual realization I made is that my way may be rather unpopular.
I have never seen myself as a particularly unusual person. I’m not the type of person that dislikes all the shows that are super popular. Of course, I have my preferences just like everyone else, and there are some megahits that don’t resonate with me, but generally speaking, I’m fairly similar to your average anime fan. At least I think so.
But maybe I’m wrong.
For instance, to me, My Dess-Up Darling is a light-hearted romantic comedy. It focused on Gojo and Marin’s growing relationship and how these two characters have to step out of their respective comfort zone to develop and learn to better connect with others. The cosplay premise is a good way to add in a lot of fanservice and make the story feel topical. At its heart, it’s sort of a quintessential high school romance but it’s got great pacing and very likeable characters. It’s well done, I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys high school romances and doesn’t mind a bit of t&a.
Once again for me, Smile Down the Runway was a dramatic character study about how people of very different backgrounds and challenges deal with the highly competitive world of high fashion. It had a strong commentary about how privilege affects your professional life and about the sheer pressure of certain industries. There is a lot of office politics in play. It also centers on the characters’ individual progression and gain in confidence to be able to pursue careers with high barriers of entry, despite their individual obstacles. I think it has some rocky moments but I found that in many ways, it explored themes that weren’t that common and therefore made for an interesting watch in that sense.
As you can imagine, for someone that sees these two shows as I do, they don’t have much in common. If I’m in the mood for a goofy fluffy show, I’m not going to want to see Smile Down the Runway. On the other hand, if I want something dramatic and exploring the more adult ideas of career progression and professional sacrifices, I’m likely not going to find what I’m looking for in My Dress-Up Darling.
However, a lot of people think these two shows are similar enough that enjoying one would translate to liking the other.
And why wouldn’t they?
Both of these shows are concerned with making clothes and go into detail about fabric, sewing techniques and garment constructions. Both star a strong-willed blond girl who seems unphased by it all but is actually much sweeter than people might think at first glance, and a much meeker boy who happens to be unusually talented at making clothes. Both are in a way, character-driven coming of age stories, even if they focus on contrasting aspects of personal development.
Of course, if these are the elements that make someone enjoy one of the shows, then they will absolutely like the other. And that’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation of these shows.
I’m only bringing up My Dress-Up Darling and Smile down the Runway as an example here. Mostly because I feel like a lot of people are watching My Dress-Up Darling right now so my example will make sense to a lot of folks. But I can do the same thing with a lot of shows people have compared.
To be clear, this isn’t happening every time. There are plenty of instances when someone tells me two animes are similar and I totally agree. However, because I had a few of these times that I disagree, happen in close succession, I started to think about it a bit differently. I started to try to figure out what the comparison was saying about how people are watching the shows, rather than what it was saying about the shows themselves. And I have to say, this exercise is fascinating to me.
MAL has a few pages of If you like anime X then you’ll like anime Y and I’ve been going through them. It’s the anime recommendations tab. And it’s an absolute blast. I do run into the issue that I’ve not always seen both anime in question but when I have, I try to figure out why a person thinks two shows are similar instead of whether I agree or not. It’s also allowed me to find out if there are anime fans out there that have similar perceptions to mine. Which is not exactly the same as similar tastes.
For instance, there was this one user that I pretty much agreed with all their comparisons. Like everything they said were shows that are alike, I was completely on board and didn’t even have to think about it. It made perfect sense from the start. We obviously saw the same thing in these shows. But they hated some of my favourite anime and I didn’t care for a lot of their top picks. We don’t have the same tastes in anime at all, but we do have very similar ways of watching anime if that makes sense.
And that is actually something to consider both when you write and when you read anime reviews. Things that I tend to do quite often.
This isn’t always the most practical advice. After all, not every reviewer I read does these handy dandy comparison charts or even regularly compares anime in general. But if they do have something like that, I’m going to make sure to go through it attentively. I think that will give me a much better understanding of how they review anime.
As for the writing part, I think I have to be more aware of the fact that when I compare two anime to make a point or something, even if it’s the most obvious comparison in the world to me, it might not make sense to some of my readers. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but I should be more careful about explaining my comparisons or putting them into context.
Maybe I’ll even make a handy dandy little anime comparison chart at some point. It sounds like a lot of fun but also a lot of work so don’t hold me to it…