It’s been about three and a half years since I started this blog, and lately I’ve been committing to a lot of stuff outside of it. Looking back at some of what I used to do, a lot has changed, and my ideas have changed. Unfortunately that’s not always apparent to the reader and I’m too lazy to go back and fix my mistakes. But even then, I don’t think that changing every last bit of content will fix this blog or anything else for that matter.
In the anime fandom realm, I’ve scaled back on what I watch this season, just as I did back in Winter. And while I would love to find time to add a few more things before summer ends, I have been meaning to take time to reflect back on what I have done before I continue to move forward. Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been spinning my proverbial wheels, so this is probably a good time to start thinking about those things. Here are a few things that I am reflecting on.
What is my voice?
I used to devote this blog to all kinds of stuff that I write. From poetry to fan fictions, to reflections that I thought were about feminism, only to realize that even I missed the point. I started The True Lystria as a New Year resolution to see if I could keep up with writing projects that I didn’t have to think of as “work,” so a lot of the early content was like an experiment.
I have since established a slightly more solid approach to writing, with a few inconsistencies here and there, but some of the old stuff hasn’t gone away. And for most of them, they are reminders that my writing style used to be atrocious! How bad could it possibly be? Look no further than one of my earliest anime reviews on The World God Only Knows (click at your own risk).
Now to be fair, my writing is probably still atrocious, but for different reasons. This is an example of what I call the analytical approach to reviewing. It’s scientific, it’s messy, and for the most part, it doesn’t tell you anything about the series or why you should watch it. And whether fortunately or unfortunately, that style was a foundation for a lot of reviews just like it.
Some critics like to use a similar “objective” approach to anime, by listing all the things they like, the things they dislike, and out of some magical evaluation process, conclude whether or not the series was good, bad, or something in between. Not that there is anything wrong with people who write that way, but I often felt that that process is disengaging to both the medium and the writer. Whether it’s a reason to enjoy the series or criticisms to turn away from it, separating both like they are talking about two different things loses a lot of the context as to why it’s portrayed that way, and doesn’t benefit anyone but those who know anything about it, and even that’s a stretch!
I try not to get involved in analytical opinions about my hobbies, but I often find a lot of people (including myself when I’m off guard) engage in that. If I engage in that kind of conversation, my voice is lost. But if I don’t engage, I lose interest. What then is my voice?
Positive fan or Negative critic?
So if I’m not doing the whole “objective” approach thing, I suppose I can change things up a bit by picking sides. Lots of people do that. That’s how they know whom they can enjoy or hate the same series with. To be fair, I tend to write more stuff on the positive side of things, but even that doesn’t capture what I want to portray in reviews anymore. If anything, it just sounds like a promotion or mindless fandom speak, and only true fans will get it.
But of course, I’m no stranger to this approach either. My collage of all things Saki is proof of just how esoteric my version of fandom can get!
Now I wouldn’t be the first to say that there is nothing wrong with loving a series that’s literally all about high school girls playing Mahjong, plus supernatural powers that would otherwise be totally illegal in an actual game of Mahjong. In fact, I’ve made a few friends over our love for the Saki series, and even got into playing the game for myself.
But not only is this a way to alienate those who don’t get it, it also leaves a narrow interpretation that excludes its faults and criticisms. I still respect Saki for what it is, but even I misunderstand why someone would actually dislike the series, or even feel offended if they did.
Of course, I did experiment with the full criticism approach at least once. Perhaps the most recent anime that a lot of people love to hate, I shared some fairly cliché opinions about Pupa too.
Sure, there is some unity for those who have also hated it, but even then, absolute criticism only leaves room for contrarians to find something to like about it, even if it’s a little thing. And for those who at least take it to consideration, it makes the rest of us look really foolish.
Being a pure fan or a pure critic can be very foolish, but I find that a lot of anime fans are like this. They expect another fans to have liked or seen whatever they like, only to be utterly disappointed that I don’t think the same way as them. But instead of trying to figure out why their opinion is the way it is, the feelings are more antagonizing than anything else, and it plays on both sides of the fandom, whether one loves or hates any series. I get tired of this fragmented rhetoric among fans, and I think a lot of relapsed fans feel the same way.
I’ve watched a variety of shows in the past three years, and review a lot of the newer ones. But whether I find myself being a fan or a critic, I want to at least consider what others have to say. This is why a lot of my reviews are retroactive and for the most part irrelevant. But rather than give a reason to add to the argument, I want to offer a reason for someone to see that watching any series might be worthwhile.
Engaging Beyond the Anime
It may not be apparent on the structure of my blog, but I don’t write my reviews in a vacuum. Every time I watch a show, I am comparing it to whatever is available to me. For most people, comparisons are made usually by tropes or other shows, but I prefer taking things from my own experience and ideas.
Most of my reviews now are themed this way, and unless you knew a little something about my thought process, they probably confused you. Perhaps my most serious engagement in this fashion was a string of 13 anime reviews that centered around feminist-related topics. I have since done at least four other months of themed reviews, and if I haven’t made a formal announcement here or on my Facebook yet, I have planned another set of themed reviews for this month. These reviews took on a more theoretical approach, but sometimes I kept my personal opinion out of them.
Perhaps one of my most read reviews (most likely due to popularity), I actually opened my thoughts on Kill La Kill as something I hated. But since I was covering the series as if it were a narrative on liberation (and I still believe that), that opening sounded more sarcastic than anything else. Having engaged in conversations about the show in this fashion, I think my opinion has since changed to liking the series, but that personal mistake of mine in my writing remains as a reminder that I am in fact human. I guess you can say that I actually convinced myself to like the series, just by writing about it.
Some people might think that I’m a little too self-centered or personal in my anime reviews, and that’s fair. Exposing my weaknesses is nothing new to me, even as early as my personal reflection on Love Hina. But no matter how honest I get with these reflections or explanations, there are times when I feel like I might be taking away from the series rather than giving others a reason to watch. And when there is so much going on pretty much everywhere these days, it’s even harder to keep up with everything to begin with.
For this month, I will be writing anime reviews that explore what one can do when determination and hard work is not enough, starting with my most recent review on Aoharu x Machinegun. And while I won’t try to bore you with educational mumbo jumbo, a lot of this reflective writing is meant to be therapeutic for me, too. Maybe you thought my dry sense of humor gets in the way of how I process an anime, but I think that’s been my involuntary response to the other struggles in my life that people don’t see.
My review style leaves me very vulnerable, even if what I write today may not be how I feel tomorrow. But even if that were the case, my hope is that others will understand my thoughts, that they might share this journey with me, even if it’s for a completely different reason. Adding a personal touch to anime with my own experience makes it come to life for me, but I’m not always certain that it comes alive for my readers. And to that, I continue to experiment with my reviews in yet another way.
Recreating a Faithful Interpretation
We can say what we will about why we like a series or list all of its faults. We can draw from other ideas and experiences to give it meaning for ourselves. But to me, none of these are reasons worthwhile for others to want to engage with the anime (or any other medium for that manner). But from my context to the context of the story, I want to see the anime come to life.
Some people think of this as a means to enter into the world of the anime, but I think I’m more interested in seeing that world come into ours instead.
I’m not one to explicitly share my love or hate for anything that I write about, but if you follow the tone by which I write about them, you would know that even I have my preferences. It’s no secret that my opinion often differs from a lot of other people, as was the case for my defense of the magical girl Subaru commercial, Wish Upon the Pleiades. I’ll admit that a lot of it was cute and otherwise very enjoyable. But I also take into consideration that I have my own experiences whenever I watch the series. As such, I found the series to be fun for my love for science as well as for magical girls. And while I will admit that there are faults even on those interpretations alone, there is value in seeing its potential in our world.
Sure, there are anime that I would love to see come to life, as well as many which I don’t. But to some degree, I think the ideas that come from them already exist in our world, for better or for worse, and I think realizing that would make for a more engaging conversation than an antagonizing one.
It’s pretty obvious to me that no one is ever going to share my exact thoughts and opinions on everything, but lately I think that disparity between me and everyone else has been more of a crippling force than a helpful one. I don’t think that we are the same, nor do I believe that we should be the same. But what I want to find is understanding from others and myself, because I think that’s something a lot of us are missing.
So instead of thinking about the anime simply as something to talk about just for the sake of talking about it, I want to think about why it is valuable, why you should watch it, and why it might be worthwhile to check it out, despite the fandom or the criticism. I think of each anime that I’ve reviewed as a part of my own narrative, but also one that could potentially be a part of yours.
I said I was going to make other announcements than just ramble on about my review style, but maybe I’ll save that for another time. My life is currently in all kinds of directions, that I’m not quite sure where to go or what to do yet. If you are really curious, I’m actually very behind for the Summer shows, with only 8 things that I’m keeping up with at the moment. I would love to add more before the season ends, but I also want to take time to revisit some past memories. That’s what reviews are for, right?
I’m not a big fan of hype, but I will say that my next review is the one that’s pictured above. If you know it, cool; if you don’t, that’s fine too. And while there are plenty of joys and criticisms I have for it, there are plenty of reasons I say that it has become my narrative as well. I hope you continue to read through my blogging journey. But until then, I need some more time to think about what I want to do from here on out.