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 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.
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.
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.
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?