Some of you may have noticed that I don’t post anime reviews all that often. It’s not that I’m not watching anime. In fact, I’ve watch more recently than in recent months thanks to the Crunchyroll app on the Nintendo Wii-U. In part, I haven’t been writing reviews of these stories because I haven’t felt the drive. I’ve had various editorials to write. However, I’ve also been wondering about the worth of reviews. I don’t know about you, but I tend to read reviews after I watch something. I’m often curious if anyone else felt the same about a story or the messages as I did. Not to mention most anime fans go to the big sites like My Anime List for reviews instead of small blogs like mine. My traffic stats are conclusive–editorials just do better.
Of course, the problems with reviews aren’t limited to anime. If you look at Amazon, you will see how reviews become noise. Sure, I will glance through them before buying something, but I’ve seen how most reviews skew toward this-product-is-the-best-thing-ever to 1-star reviews because of shipping problems–which has nothing to do with the product quality itself. There are standout reviews that look into the pros and cons of the product, but I’m finding these are scarce for most of the products I buy–books mainly. Reviews are also bought or, as in the case of many self-published books, subject to Good Samaritan reviewing. Good Samaritan reviewing is when a fellow author or family member or friend gives you a glowing review without actually reading your book. Now, you might think this is good. After all, reviews tend to sell books. But the ethics of this is, well, a problem. It’s lying.
Reviews are subjective. Shipping issues for an otherwise great product can be a deal breaker for one person and a non-concern for another. When reviewing something like anime, taste plays more of a factor. Reading a review from a random writer, like myself, doesn’t really help you all that much. You don’t know how much my tastes align with yours. Now, for some of you who have been with me since JP started, you’ve gotten to know my tastes, and this will lend more weight to your decision to watch an anime or not after reading one of my reviews. But this takes time. Unless you follow a certain reviewer on MAL, one who reviews regularly, the review isn’t all that useful. The point of reviews is to find something that you would want to consume, but if the reviewer’s tastes clash with yours more often than not, then you had best follow another reviewer. It’s akin to a friend recommending a movie. The friend knows you well enough to offer something to your tastes. Unfortunately, here all I do is talk at you without getting to know you like a friend would. Yes, I know. I could take to Twitter and fix that….but I loathe Twitter. With a passion. There is just no room for nuance or a proper conversation with all the noise and limitations. Not to mention I’m just not a conversationalist like that.
Okay, back on topic. Most of the time I know if I will enjoy an anime after two episodes. There’s been few times I’ve read a review and tried the anime–you know, like you are supposed to do–only to dislike the story. That’s that thing about reviews. They are subject to a person’s filter, which may not align with your own. And that filter may also change based on how the reviewer is feeling. They may be going through a rough time and find harem comedies appealing escapism when the reviewer may normally eschew them.
Sometimes, I will purposefully seek out anime I dislike. I do the same with books for that matter. But again, reviews don’t play a part of my selection. I just scroll through Crunchyroll’s most popular anime and pick one I know I will dislike. Why? Because I want to be aware of what other people like or see why something is popular. Much of the time it is because it is sexualized fluff, but that’s a topic I’ve covered many times. As an anime and otaku culture researcher, I have to watch and study things I dislike in order to understand anime and otaku culture better.
Now, I’m not saying reviews are completely worthless. But they also aren’t critically helpful. My voice is just one of thousands of anime watchers who speak into the void. Free blog networks teem with anime bloggers reviewing episodes and stories. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to express your thoughts. JP began as one of those review sites. My very first post was a review of Eureka Seven. That was about 7 years ago. JP didn’t really take off until I started writing editorials about history and Japanese culture. However, I’ve noticed posts about current season anime do better than mining old anime as I tend to do. After all, many of you have already seen older anime that I am only now watching such as Izetta. But then I don’t watch a lot of new stuff. My American movie tastes are back in the 1930s-1970s.
So basically I’m saying I’m not convinced as to the value of reviews. Most of the time I’ll enjoy movies that are poorly reviewed by critics more than well-reviewed films. I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, however. I have a high tolerance and a guilty affection for bad films. But also unless you follow someone for a long time, you don’t get a lot of value from reviews. Only someone who knows you can offer a film you may enjoy that you may not pay attention to otherwise. And there’s the rub. You can seek out reviews that align with your tastes, but that isn’t the same as a friend’s suggestion about something different. Starred reviews are terribly subjective. I don’t like to rate anything 1 or 5 stars just because I don’t like using the low or high end of scales. It’s a resistance within me. Few things are 5 star good or 1 star bad, yet there are other people who avoid the middle of the scale. In fact, many people seem to avoid the middle on Amazon.
So what do you think about this? Are reviews helpful? What skews or problems have you seen in review systems?