The title here is probably largely hyperbole but the bottom line is that despite three and a half years now of writing episode reviews, series reviews, and other articles, I still keep feeling like something is missing. Looking back at earlier posts I feel the urge to rewrite, recreate, adjust just a little (or just start over) as my feelings regarding the anime reviewed have changed and the style in which I want to express my thoughts has evolved. No matter how many reviews I write, deep down inside I still feel like I’m a newb and so when I’m asked my opinion of someone else’s review it catches me off guard.
Now I am well aware that I take a very reactionary position when it comes to reviewing anime, particularly individual episodes. I’m not usually analysing shot composition or getting into detail about the technicalities of how something is put together, unless there’s something obvious and either very good or bad to say. My focus is very much on the story and characters and how I feel after watching and why.
Which for me means I’m not really writing a formal review as such. It is more I’m airing my thoughts on something, providing some justification, and generally opening a conversation with others who have watched the show or might want to watch it.
And while there’s nothing wrong with my approach and I’m very glad so many people have enjoyed it, the question of what a review needs to have in it or requires, or even what form it should take, is one worth considering. Because in the current world of blogs, vlogs, and all other manner of quick communication, one has to wonder if formal review writing is becoming a lost art?
Be that as it may, ultimately, I don’t want to write formally on my blog. I don’t want to have rigid and defined structures. And I don’t want what I write to feel like I’m ticking off some check list having mentioned each attribute of an anime even if I had nothing to say about sound or colour.
Is There A Recipe For A Perfect Review?
If you ask your English teacher, they might just say yes. Here’s a template of how to review a television show. This is the language you need to use. Be sure to throw in some technical jargon and link it all together cohesively. Write in third person to maintain authority and distance. And on and on it goes. Amazingly enough, most people reading anime review blogs aren’t exactly interested in whether or not you are flashing a cool vocabulary or not. They are more interested in either the anime, which is probably how they found your blog, or they are an ongoing follower in which case they actually want to know how you feel about the whole thing and so you should probably tell them.
I guess it depends on what you are writing for. If you are trying to build up a body of work to get hired by some larger site as a reviewer, you probably want a style that reflects where you want to be. For me, the intention has always been connecting with other fans. You know the feeling when you finish an episode of a show and it was either awesome or dreadful and you want to turn to the person next to you and tear it apart or laugh or celebrate or whatever emotion you are feeling but because anime is such a niche market there’s seldom someone available? Or at least not in the nearby vicinity? Almost every post I’ve ever written has been crafted from that inner desire to find someone and prattle on for hours about the show in question.
Some reviewers do break their posts up with sub-headings as they do walk through a standard structure. Irina is trying this at the moment with her Fire Force reviews as it gives her a template and a starting point each week as well as keeps things focused. Lynn Sheridan also uses a similar structure to his reviews and I find these easy to read, easy to digest, and it covers what it needs to in order to get the point across.
I’ve also tried this. Actually a lot of my earlier series reviews broke down with headings such as ‘plot’, ‘characters’, ‘other’ but what I soon found was that there were things I wanted to say that didn’t fit the format or sometimes I wanted ideas to flow more naturally rather than being segregated and broken up by headings. Basically, I naturally abandoned a template for a series review in favour of writing in a style that suited me more and allowed me to write as I wanted to write. It doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally go back to using headings or even a plus+/minus- format when I’m finding it hard to get my thoughts to gel, but I also don’t let myself be bound by a template that I myself created to make it easier to write.
Over my time as a reviewer I’ve been told I’m too descriptive, too opinionated, too short, too long, too cautious, too dismissive, too politically correct and probably a lot of things I’m forgetting. The bottom line is, you won’t please everyone. Reviewers never do regardless of how good their writing is. You are launching a personal opinion, hopefully a justified one, onto the internet where anyone (who searches for anime related content) may eventually stumble upon it. How you go about the presentation of that opinion is going to come down to your personal choice and even if you listened to everyone’s advice, someone would still tell you that you got it wrong.
So How Do I Get Better?
You know the saying practice makes perfect? My music teacher always disagreed with that when I was growing up. She told me ‘perfect practice makes perfect’. At the time it made sense because if you practice doing something in a flawed manner surely you would learn to do it flawed.
The problem with that advice is that if you can’t do it perfectly then you end up paralysing yourself and never moving anywhere. On May 1, 2016 I started reviewing the seasonal anime at the time. It was a few weeks into the season already, I had no audience, and no real clue what I was doing, but I went for it at 100 words a hit. While over the years I feel my tone has relaxed a little, I feel my words are flowing better. They certainly come more easily when I sit at the keyboard. Then again, I’m also less concerned with whether every word is perfect and more concerned with whether the idea and feeling I want is being conveyed. On that note, I’m still a little hit and miss at times I feel.
If asked for advice about writing reviews I think the main point would have to be to know what you want to say. Also, try to figure out why you feel that way. If you liked a show, what did you like about it? If you hated it, explain why.
Also, don’t worry about whether you’ve covered every aspect of the anime. If you aren’t into technical details or don’t know much about animation quality, don’t stress. There are other reviewers who write those kinds of reviews already. Let’s be honest, a lot of readers don’t really know much about those aspects either and mostly just want to know if something looks good or not. I personally want to do more coverage around voice actors, but I don’t feel like I know enough at this point to really do them justice for the work they do, but still, it is something I’d like to work on including more in my reviews. But if I don’t mention them, it doesn’t mean the review was pointless.
Every day, I read dozens of reviews and blogs and the ones I return to again and again have one common point. The writer’s voice comes through loud and clear as does their love of anime. If you are looking for the must-have ingredient in an anime review that’s the one not to leave out.
But what do I know? I’m still finding my way as well from someone who is a newb who feels like they suck at reviewing to someone who feels a little bit of confidence as I put my thoughts out there for the world. Incidentally, I nearly deleted this post twice during the drafting of it but decided in the end it was something worth saying. Besides, I’m having a lot of fun writing reviews and I’d love to know what you all think an anime review should contain.
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