Friday’s Feature – Comparing Apples and Oranges

With the new season of anime starting, I’ve found myself doing a lot of episode 1 impressions and trying to write a basic overview of a lot of different shows. The number of times I found myself falling back on the “it’s like …. with a bit of ….” in order to describe a show kind of got me thinking. Is it fair to compare one show to another?

In honesty, when I write a review of a full series, I generally avoid comparing one anime to another. Occasionally it seems necessary to make a point about one particularly aspect. Whether it be a character, a bit of music, or a particular plot point, sometimes drawing a comparison can be really helpful in order to explain where you are coming from. However, I avoid falling back on this as my main form of review for the simple reason that I feel things should be taken for what they are and not what other things are that might be better.

erased

Erased is a good anime to look at when we think about whether or not we should compare anime. If we look at Erased as a mystery, even taken by itself you can see that the mystery itself is flawed due to the lack of viable suspects. This makes the guessing who the culprit is pretty easy and takes away any dramatic reveal that might occur later in the series. So even without a comparison Erased isn’t going to stand up very well as a mystery. But if we then played it against a mystery (something like Blood C or Paranoia Agent which leave you guessing until the reveal) Erased starts looking even worse.

paranoia-agent

Is that fair? Admittedly, if I were doing a Top 5 list of best mystery anime, Erased wouldn’t be on it, but when I reviewed Erased I was looking at more than just the mystery component. So comparing it to something else only as a mystery takes away from what Erased actually is as an anime.

My review of Erased focussed very much on the characters within Erased and their reactions to the situations. I looked at the characters I liked and didn’t and the events that shaped them. Are the characters perfect? Not really. If I compared Erased to other character driven dramas would Erased be the best? Probably not. But Erased is a character driven drama with mystery and supernatural elements thrown in. It is the combination of all of these things (working together) that make watching Erased a reasonably entertaining experience.

taboo12

But if we start classifying things like that I may as well say that Taboo Tattoo was the most interesting anime about princesses trying to rewrite the world via the power of sentient tattoos. I’d be right (at least I hope there aren’t any others), but that doesn’t make it a good anime either.

Alderamin7a

Another anime that I really liked recently was Alderamin on the Sky. I really enjoyed each episode and getting to know the characters, however I found myself regularly pointing out that this anime wasn’t trying to be the most exciting thing in the world. Looking back at my weekly thoughts, I said this a lot. Why? Because when you do a surface comparison of Alderamin to any of the big anime, Alderamin is going to come off second best. Not because it isn’t a good story with good characters but because it just doesn’t have any of the flash of some of the big names. Any kind of comparison is going to go badly for Alderamin but I would still say you should watch Alderamin.

I also remember a lot of people comparing Shirayuki (from Snow White with the Red Hair) to Yona (Akatsuki no Yona). Yeah they were both red-haired heroines who appeared at around the same time and both ended up being quite independent, female leads. It seems natural to compare them. Except that does it matter if Yona is more active than Shirayuki and learns to shoot a bow? Does that make Shirayuki any less of a positive, female character in an anime? Does it matter that Shirayuki has far more self-determination right from the start of the series than Yona does in hers? Does that make Yona less of a heroine because her direction was chosen for her by destiny at first?

I’m not actually criticising comparisons. They do work well at highlighting similarities and differences and make you really consider stories and characters. I just wonder what the purpose of some comparisons are and whether there has to be a better or a worse option when things are compared?

What is your view on using comparisons as part of a review?

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19 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – Comparing Apples and Oranges

  1. Comparisons is something we do by default, even when we don’t want to. After watching Akatsuki no Yona and starting Shirayuki right after, I couldn’t help but want more Yona instead of Shirayuki, it’s why I put the show on-hold, it’s not fair that because we enjoyed so much we want another show to be similar and deliver the same.
    I try not to compare in that regard, I can say it is similar in certain aspects (and say what the aspects are), or that it’s like a mix of X and Y for reasons elaborated/certain parts, but never as a complete thing. I also feel like direct comparisons makes you build up in your head how the show will go/be, and then it’ll be a disappointment, which sucks :’D

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  2. For a comparison to be effective. whoever your comparing said story with needs to familar with to reader. Or that have at least understand your stance on the comparison series.

    I tend to stay away from comparisons unless its necessary. One reason because I suck at it and also because I like to take a story for what it actually is rather then what it could be. So I agree with you on that. I prefer that people construct their open opinion rather then looking for what I see. I don’t watch programs in the way other ani bloggers do.

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  3. I don’t mind using comparisons, but especially when it comes to doing a full review of something, I always try to judge a show based solely on its own merits – and that includes basing it not on its genre or even on its tropes, but as a single, standalone piece of work. Comparisons can make life a heck of a lot easier if you’re trying to explain what a show is like within a short space of time/words to a viewer who hasn’t seen it, but I’d like to think they’re there for convenience as opposed to necessity.

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  4. Basically, as long as your experience with a particular subject allows for you to compare one thing to another to back up a point you’re making about the subject being analyzed, it’s all good. If you’re comparing all things to one particular thing to judge its quality, you’re doing it wrong.

    I like to joke that ever since watching Toradora!, I compare all other romances to it knowing that none will likely ever surpass it. Even so, it’s nice to set flags as to what a series has to do to really affect you as a viewer. Nice post.

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  5. Comparison should only be used lightly and in passing. When comparing you should state what works and what doesn’t, in order to strengthen a point you’re making whilst maintaining an impartial view point. However some will compare just so they can bash on the shows shortcomings. As it justifies their confirmation bias.

    I’m in agreence with others. I don’t compare at all.

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  6. I totally agree that comparing one series with another is unfair. Comparisons are at best used for smaller details, within shows. For example comparing how Orange, Erased, and Steins;Gate handle time Time Travel. Orange dropped the ball completely, Erased used the supernatural if you want to call it that, and Steins;Gate tells you basically everything you need to know(especially in the VN). As stories, the three of them are vastly different, and virtually incomparable otherwise.

    Then of course we can compare things that are more similar to each other, such as One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto. All shonen, and all follow the familiar shonen format, IE the main character fights progressively stronger antagonists as the show carries on while getting stronger themselves. So I’d say it’s fair to compare those 3 separate journeys, but the setting and plot remain separated by the protagonists goals and motives. Try to compare any of the three with Soul Eater, another shonen, and suddenly it becomes a lot harder. So even within genres which are largely similar, large comparisons are difficult, or unfair.

    Basically, yeah I totally agree. I probaly botched up my thoughts along the way, but I hope it’s understandable.

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  7. In my reviews I also try to stay away from using comparisons, but I also think that it’s important to understand that numerical rating systems, such as the one on MyAnimeList, are only able to be used if the one using it is able to compare and contrast series so as to give them a rating they are happy with. Often times I will use comparisons in First Impression posts just so that I can give other people an idea of how the story feels and by doing so it makes it easier to get people to understand the series as a whole if they know it is similar to something else they know about. The reason I try to avoid using comparisons in reviews is because I want the focus to be on the series I am reviewing. I do think that it is important to compare series that are similar in their natures, like comparing NANA to ReLIFE. Both series are character dramas that focus on the lives and experiences of the characters, and while I would highly suggest you watch both of them, I also would like to say that I think NANA is better than ReLIFE and so I rate it higher. When it comes to making lists and things like that, comparisons need to be made so that people can get an idea of what is “better”. When reviewing I try to keep the focus on the series under review, but when I’m rating and ranking I think it is incredibly important to compare series to eachother so that a reliable ladder establishes itself. “Better” shows rise to the top, but worse shows sink to the bottom. That said, you should not compare things that are super specific within series such whether or not there was a robot girl or how blue the sky was; those things don’t usually have a massive impact on the story as a whole.

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    1. True, if you are using a rating system you have to compare and you certainly have to compare things in order to make a list. For my weekly overview posts I end up deciding which shows I am finding more enjoyable and which ones least enjoyable. But I don’t count that as part of the reviewing process itself, that’s more giving an overall feeling or preference and then the review kind of explains why (if that makes any sense).
      I’m now wondering if anyone has ever compared the use of blue in anime skies? Sorry, it’s early in the morning and I’m getting distracted fairly easily.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I try to avoid it as much as I can, but sometimes it can be easy to use a comparison to interest viewers as well. The problem is that these days it is pretty hard to find something that hasn’t already been done in one way or another. Nearly every show, be it Anime or live action has been done in some way. That is, originality is pretty tough to find.
    That being said, I don’t mind using comparisons, as long as they functional. If you compare shows, just because they might have a bit of the same vibe, but have completely different storylines….that might be taking things to far😀

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  9. If I was giving a recommendation, yeah! But I won’t be too critical about it. It’s just not fair since there are a lot of other aspects about a show that might appeal to a particular audience or will be their main reason for watching it. The characters might be super-funny but the romance and the story fell through for example, and this can happen a lot in a rom-com.

    I have friends who’d compare SAO to Log Horizon even though they have their own vibe and feel to them. Log is more focused on its world and politics and SAO is more focused on raw emotions and action. Idiots. But I won’t blame them and it’s often times better to compare a show with something that they watched to get them interested in what you have to say.

    But if I were doing a normal post I will avoid comparing, yes since that’ll turn their interest off rather than make them interested. Maybe a human habit that’ll probably never go away? Although an apples to apples comparison is rarely justified no matter how you look at it. Nothing is a carbon copy after all.

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    1. I think you might be right about it being a human habit. We fall into the trap of asking what something is like and inevitably compare it to something else (whether that is fair or not).

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  10. I believe you have the right line of thinking. Making comparison in a review should be done as a point of reference, not as a measuring stick. They are meant to impart a hopefully familiar idea or concept to your reader without having to completely spell out the point you’re trying to make.

    For the purposes of a review, a series should stand on its own. That’s the only way you can objectively discuss the merits or shortcomings. If we just compared all the time, you would only have like ten shows to recommend to viewers.

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  11. I only give comparisons when I’m trying to describe something to someone, and I know they like whatever I’m comparing it to. For example, I recently described Steven Universe to someone as “Sailor Moon, where Usagi is a guy” but that is such a bare bones description of how the show is, but it’s honestly the best way I can describe it to someone who has never seen it. If you’re reviewing a show, I don’t really think it’s fair to compare it to something that came before it. If you’re comparing it to say, a ton of cliches and tropes, that’s a different story but to be like “Steins; Gate handled time travel better than Erased” (I have actually seen this comparison lol) I think is highly unfair because the time travel aspect of both is not only used differently as a story telling device, but they use 2 different forms of time travel to move their stories forward. I don’t think comparing shows to each other really helps either show, and tend to stay away from it and judge one show on it’s Merritt as a story as a whole rather than compare.

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    1. Steins;Gate and Erased huh? Wow, I’d never even connected those two shows (even though yes, they both technically feature time travel). Yes, that would be a really unfair comparison.

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  12. my natural instinct is to avoid comparing series in recommendations because i dont like people going into shows with excessive expectations and because im just…bad at coming up with these links, but i kinda understand the concept of “selling the show”. when im in the reviewing phase, though, id say they’re more appropriate. certain shows do X better and other shows do Y better…i dont have an issue with thinking like that as long as it’s clear what im focusing on.

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