Recently, there’s been some significant changes in the manga and anime industries. In a time of flux some people look to new models, some cling to old and lots of people choose to shoot the messenger. In the manga and anime world, blogger-reviewers are frequently the messengers. :-)
Fans are pretty bad at social cues that “normal” people have no trouble picking up on. For instance, when someone says to you, “Gee look at the time,” it isn’t a hint for you to look at your watch – it’s time to let the conversation drop and let them leave. :-) Likewise, if you’re talking someone’s ear off and they say, “Excuse me, I have to handle this,” and turn away from you, it’s time to wave and move on, *not* to say, “I’ll wait” and pick up where you left off when they are done.
And then there are reviews. I’ve already covered the fallacy of the objective review in a previous essay. Today I’d like to provide some basic lessons in how to read a review. These rules apply here of course, but they will also probably apply to any review written by anyone anywhere.
1) Don’t assume the reviewer has an agenda…unless they say they do
Reviews are…well, reviews. Usually a review is a synopsis of a story, some highlights of key positives and negatives, opinions as to why those matter and a conclusion. A conclusion, or a point made within the context of the review is not the same thing as an agenda. A reviewer’s agenda is to review the item. Unless they state something like, “I will prove that the Emperor is really a bicycle,” they probably have no other agenda but to review. Way few manga reviewers are corporate tools, shills or stoolies. Their only agenda is to review things of interest to fans. Accusing them of having an agenda is typically an indication that the reader was the one with an agenda – one that was not met.
2) Don’t assume the reviewer watches things the same way or looks for the same things in their entertainment as you do.
A reviewer may not notice something that is critical to you, or may focus on something you don’t find important at all. The reviewer’s criteria are theirs, yours are yours. Just because you love something doesn’t mean the reviewer will – even if you explain to them how important it is. Language is super important to me, but maybe not to you. A reviewer is going to focus on what they like – not necessarily what you like.
3) Don’t assume the reviewer plays by your rules
Maybe you would never call something boring. Maybe you would never give anything a 10. The review you are reading- unless it’s one of your own – may not follow *your* rules. You have the right to not read it, of course, but demanding the reviewer conform to your standards misses the point of reading someone else’s review/opinion. Which brings me to…
4) The reviewer does not owe you external validation
Some reviews will be negative about something you like. That happens and, when it does, you have three choices – you can consider the alternative point of view and find it valid or not; you can stop reading; you can throw a hissy fit in the comments or elsewhere. Whichever you choose, it’s important to remember that the reviewer is not your therapist – they do not owe you external validation of your opinion.
5) Disagreeing with your opinion is not a personal attack
This one is critical in fandom. We get so engaged about what we like, we forget that people have the right to not like it – or worse, not care about it at all. Unless a reviewer says, “people who like this are doodyheads” they are not implying this. They might disagree with your opinion, but not your right to your opinion. Take a deep breath – both opinions can be right. At the same time. Feel free to share yours in the comments, in a sane and lucid manner. It’s likely that there are other people who will agree with you, too.
6) A negative review about something you like should *never* affect your opinion of it
Recently I received a polite letter asking me to retract a review, because it deeply upset the person who was writing. He asked me how I would feel if someone attacked a series I liked? I wrote back to say that I would not care, because 1) my opinion is mine and why would someone else’s opinion change that and; 2) oh, there are PLENTY of things I like that other people don’t – and, you know what? That’s okay. It doesn’t bother me in the least when people disagree with me. That’s what makes life interesting.
I should have also added – 3) it’s a freaking cartoon, get a grip, man. I really hope that if you’re about to launch a screaming frothy-mouthed attack on any reviewer that you sit back, take a deep breath and consider why them liking this thing is SO critical for you? Will it actually affect you? How? Why? Unless you are the creator – then you’ve got a good reason to be upset, maybe. But, you still have to deal with the fact that some people just aren’t going to like the same things you like.
And the last and most important rule is:
7) You will never change anyone’s opinion by being angry at them
My opinion changes all the time. I’m pretty open to new ideas and perspectives. My opinion changes over time, with new circumstances and information. I’ve definitely changed my opinion when confronted with an alternative reading of something. But throwing a hissy fit in the comments will just about never change my opinion of whatever I reviewed. It might change my opinion of you.
In a column on his journal, film critic Roger Ebert said that video games are not art. Thousands of angry fans wrote him to explain why he was wrong. He apologized but, as I read his apology it was very clear to me that his opinion has not changed. Sure, he gets that lots of people see games as art. He clearly does not – and thousands of lunatics yelling at him (many threatening him) about it, did not shift that at all.
If you’ve ever written a reviewer and told them that they don’t get it, or that they are stupid; if you’ve ever said, “Have you read it/the second volume/seen the anime, because if you had then you’d know…”; if you’ve ever told a reviewer that they are wrong (as if an opinion can be wrong/right,)…then you have already failed in understanding what a review is and how you can usefully read and respond to it. You probably failed in making a good argument for your case, as well. We all do this, by the way – I’ve done it myself and been called out for it. It’s not a crisis, it’s just human interaction. But you’re way more likely to get a shift in opinion without the histrionics.
In conclusion, if I have ever reviewed something you liked negatively, then I am not at all sorry. Because I am not you. :-) It’s not an attack. It’s just a review. I don’t owe you external validation, but I do owe you as honest a review as I can write. And that’s what you’re gonna get here at Okazu – an honest review.