DISCLAIMER: BELOW, I USE A REVIEW FROM ANN AS A AN EXAMPLE. THIS USE IS TO HIGHLIGHT A DISAGREEMENT AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS DERISION OF THE QUALITY OF THE REVIEWER’S WORK, A PERSONAL ATTACK ON HER, OR DISAPPROVAL OF ANN GENERALLY
Here’s a familiar story: I was browsing ANN the other day and came across their review of the first six episodes of Majestic Prince. Rebecca Silverman gave the show a C+ overall. This has been my favorite mecha/sci-fi show of the season, so, while acknowledging and respecting her right to hold her own opinion, I was a bit annoyed. MJP is not A material, but, in my opinion, it is better than C+. Blah, blah, we have all been here before, yes?
Later that day, I was searching for some new music to listen to. I checked out Pitchfork’s reviews of some recent releases and found a review of J Cole’s album Born Sinner. Pitchfork gave it a 6.0 out of 10. Know what the first thought that popped into my head was? “Perfect. This is exactly what I am looking for.” I was delighted. This was the kind of hip hop album I needed to get through the remainder of the morning.
It only hit me that evening that my day’s experiences with music reviews reveals a different way of interpreting anime review scores, namely seeing them as coded, shorthand descriptions.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Stereo MCs “Connected”
I was familiar enough with Pitchfork’s hip hop reviews and the relationship of them to my own appraisals of such music that I knew what their 6.0/10 meant for me. Rather than take their score at face value as an objective quantifier of Born Sinner‘s quality, I recalled other albums in the genre that the site had given similar scores to and how I felt about those albums. Pitchfork has given such scores to albums that I responded positively to. They were largely conventional, by-the-numbers hip hop albums that did not seek to break new ground. I interpreted the 6.0/10 through that lens and judged, correctly so, that Born Sinner was a conventional, decent hip hop record. This was precisely was I was in the mood for, and my familiarity with the source of the review helped me more efficiently find what I wanted.
So, why not apply the same principles to anime review scores? Read reviews. Read everyone’s reviews. Become familiar with the tastes of as many critics as you can. For most critics, much of the time you’re going to disagree with them, probably more often than you agree with them. That’s OK though. The important thing is not finding someone who completely syncs up with your own taste; that’s a unicorn. Instead, the idea is to understand what a range of people think is important in anime. You want to know what these folks like and dislike in terms of genre, themes, tone, setting, plot elements, characterization, etc. When you can reliably predict a critic’s response to an anime (no need to be too strict here), then you have found yourself a guide you can count on. Knowing what they like, how much they like it and why they like it, you can surmise fairly accurately what the show is like based on their review score. In that case, all you need to do is relate that data to how you feel about such shows to decide if the show is worth a try. As an added benefit, if you read a wide variety of critics, then you might just get interested in something you otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with.
Returning to the MJP example, I could use Rebecca’s review score to my advantage, rather than simply being annoyed about our disagreement. Being acquainted with her work, I could view her score as a truncated description of the show, unpacked being something like, “Solid enough standard mecha show that doesn’t deviate from expected genre norms.” Interestingly enough, I agree with such a description; I just happen to value these sorts of shows more highly than Rebecca does. And, instead of stressing about the differences between what I value in entertainment versus what other critics do, I could exploit these differences to make my search for new anime to watch more a more productive one.
Now, this is not a foolproof method, and nothing beats actually reading a review. However, if you’re in a time crunch, I think this can be a fruitful method to apply.