All too often when listing to analysis and review of anime and other media, I am confronted with questions and statements that, in context, seemingly attempt to undermine the entire practice of criticism of media in the first place. These statements are often along the lines of “What we take into a show is what we are able to get out of it,” or, “If a lot of people people like a show, it has to be good and the metric for judging quality is the problem”. These comments are some of the most infuriating that I have ever heard regarding anime, as they seemingly defeat the entire point of watching and critiqueing something in the first place. Thankfully, however, these two statements are fundamentally flawed in several ways. Personal taste, while a large part of why a person enjoys or doesn’t enjoy a show, is a painfully misused concept in that it is constantly used as the backbone of this type of argument. A group of people enjoying a work, while possibly indicative of a show’s quality, is not even close to the defining factor for weather or not a show is actually any good. Allow me to elaborate.
A perfect show cannot exist. For all of the people claiming that Fullmetal Alchemist is the best animation of all time because of it’s interesting world, political commentary and ability to convey themes like the horrors of war so effectively, there are a select few who can’t enjoy to it’s fullest extent simply because of small things like Kimblee’s lack of personal motivation for his actions of mass destruction. For everyone who thinks that Evangelion is the deepest, most intriguing show of all time there are almost as many people who can’t stand Shinji’s inability to keep calm and get in the robot. This is personal taste, and is the driving force behind what makes a person enjoy a show. Let me tell you what taste isn’t: Being able to enjoy a show simply because you either expected a show to be the way it was or having had events in a person’s lives that they are able to reflect on and relate to. No actually enjoys Watamote for it’s relatablility. Being able to relate to Tomoko makes the viewer want her to be able to succeed at being a normal person, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to see her constantly trying everything in her power to do so. Most people hate watching Watamote at times for it’s incredibly uncomfortable and embarrassing scenes carried out by Tomoko, and no amount of being able to relate or know what’s coming can change that; On the contrary, being able to relate to her can make it even more painful
To elaborate on that point, true taste is made up of aspects of a person’s life experiences and neurological personality that give them the ability to understand or dislike certain aspects of a work. They don’t make or break a show unless those aspects are the foundation on which the show is based, like in the case of Evangelion, bur rather they simply add and take small bits enjoyment of a show proportional to their importance in that show as a work of art. If a person who has always been attempting to understand other people simply because they enjoy the feeling of feeling empathy, they will likely at least be able to truly understand the characters in Eva. If a person had previously subjected themselves to the torture of watching Sailor Moon without nostalgia googles on, they will most likely have a greater appreciation of the concept of Madoka Magica and how it differs from Sailor Moon. Personal experiences add to a show, they don’t make it.
Let me clarify: There are many aspects of art that can be near-universally praised. People value human characters with flaws and imperfection. They like a soundtrack that fits the mood of what is currently happening in the show. They like an overarching plot with at least some level of continuity and progression. These are still technically products of a human’s taste, but they are all caused by being human rather than by personal experiences. These are the truly universal aspects of criticism, and the foundation upon which constructive criticism is based. A show’s script when observed for the purpose of constructive criticism should be judged by it’s ability to do two things: It’s ability to express the emotions that the writer wants to convey without making the audience suffer from either boredom or excessive frustration at the story or characters, and it’s ability to make the viewer think about the show while not watching it. Although the number of ways that a writer can convey these ideals is immesne and the huge number of different aspects that go into making a person who loves something love it, there are always fundamental aspects that come with being human that any show can appeal to. I don’t know a single person who’s seen Death Note and didn’t think L was amazing, and I don’t know a single person who doesn’t burst out laughing and the stupidity of Garzey’s Wing when they watch it. In spite of taste, there are aspects of being human that cause aspects of shows to appeal to us.
As it currently stands, however, there is a gaping whole in this argument: Shows with completely split opinions about them being amazing and terrible, such as Sword Art Online, tend to break almost every conventional rule of a show being what is otherwise widely considered to be good. While people do have personal reasons for liking the concept of this show, such as being massive gamers like myself, this is not excuse for all of the idiotic stuff that happens in the show. Go watch Digibro and Mother’s Basement’s videos if you don’t know what I’m talking about. People have stated in the past that the people who watch this show don’t want to be amazed, they just want to be entertained. This makes no sense, as not only are there shows that don’t have the potential to make the viewer instantly stop caring in the middle of it with stupidity but also shows that look better visually, an aspect that the viewer most likely values considering that they are watching the show for the sake of mindless entertainment. Some say that they watch because they adore the concept so much that that alone is able to give them the motivation to finish the show, but this doesn’t make sense either as there are shows that more realistically portray the medium and concept of trapped-in-an-MMO. This leaves but one possible explanation: That the people watching are mainly children or man-children looking for an escapist wish-fulfillment fantasy that makes them feel like the overpowered god that Kirito is.
Most people who recognize this will tell you that there is no problem with liking a show for this reason. If they enjoy the show what right do you have to get mad about that? I honestly believe that anyone who says this is most likely attempting to make it sound as if they aren’t making a negative judgment of a person’s intelligence for liking the show for the sake of attempting to avoid offending anyone excessive. This is just plain wrong. It is possible to judge a person’s intelligence or at least how much they pay attention to something they enjoy based on weather or not they enjoy something as broken as Sword Art Online.
Speaking from my personal experience, I have never been blinded from a show’s flaws while watching it since before I was a massive fan of anime as a whole. I think End of Evangelion is a masterpiece and the best thing I’ve ever watched, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that part of the fight between Asuka and the Eva series looked like watching people in rubber suits. On the flip side, I understand that even shows I despise, such as Bakugan or a lot of the middle of Naruto Shipuden, have stupidly good English dubs, considering that the K-ON! Dub sounds like it was recorded by 40-year-olds who thought the only way to sound cute was by making their voices as squeaky as possible. Once again, there is no perfect show and no one paying attention to those shows should be able to ignore their flaws.
Before I was a massive anime fan, I had no sense of taste, and was able to enjoy just about anything. I watched Naruto and cried over everything remotely sad. I watched Attack on Titan and was fascinated by the fact that people dyed the entire time. I watched SAO and thought it was amazing for the few weeks between me finishing it and watching An Analytical Diatribe. It wasn’t just me who felt this way, either. My friends Ian, Arron and Sam, all of whom adored SAO, changed their minds pretty much as soon as they decided to sit though Digi’s godsend of a video, and one of which even previously considered Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Bleach, Chivalry of a Failed Knight and The Asterisk War to be of the same quality.No matter who you are, at least in my experience, once you have knowledge a show’s flaws they will hinder your ability to enjoy it.
Thus, I can only conclude that people who enjoy Sword Art Online are either less intelligent or not paying too much attention to what they are watching, and that includes myself. Honestly, if you can recognize all of the problems with SAO and still enjoy it, you really must have some of the most extreme levels of reliability or adoration for the aesthetic of the show possible.
Now, let’s look at the opposite side of the spectrum: An amazing show with a shockingly small number of fans. Here, we are taking a look at His and Her Circumstances, and how it does everything right in spite of it appearing on less than 100,000 lists on MAL. This show has everything that people love about this genre of show: Interesting and realistic characters, an overarching plot that actually goes somewhere humor that has made everyone that I know of having seen it laugh and the potential boost in popularity it got from being produced by Studio Ginax and directed by Hideaki Anno, the creators of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most popular anime of all time. So why didn’t it become massively popular? Because it’s artwork sucked and the appeal required paying attention.
As previously stated, the biggest reasons that Sword Art Online is popular are that it looks pretty and that it is very easy to follow to the fullest extent of it’s appeal. His and Her Circumstances has none of this going for it, though. Even according to those who adored the show comment on the show’s awful animation quality, some even having made statements like “In all the 106 anime I’ve watched, Kare Kano [The Japanese name for His and Her Circumstances] had the worst artwork. So bad, that at times it shows manga panels accompanied by words. And still, I can easily say that Kare Kano is one of the best anime I’ve watched.” On top of this, by nature as a romance story with characters that are deeper than a puddle, to really enjoy and understand the appeal of the show, you need to be paying enough attention to actually feel the emotions that the show wants you to feel. Once again, I can only conclude that enjoying a show like His and Her Circumstances requires more intelligence or attention to be enjoyed than what someone who liked Sword Art Online possesses.
One might reply to this, “It takes time to build taste in something! Of course someone will enjoy things that aren’t critically considered good if it’s one of their first experiences with the medium!” This makes even less sense than the arguments mentioned at the start of this video. Think about it: If this was the case, why don’t kids instantly enjoy reading? To them, The Magic Tree House should have the same level of appeal as Harry Potter. This isn’t simply something that goes away simply by watching or reading more; I have a friend who binged the first 400 episodes of the Naruto franchise over the course of two weeks before getting bored of it, and he then proceed to enjoy shows that have not been critically well-received afterwords, such as Twin Star Exorcists.
No, someone builds taste by actively thinking about a show and what it did to make them feel the way it did. A person builds taste by having the experience and intelligence to understand such things. Taste is logic reinforced by a person’s experience, and that is the difference between it and objectivity. Objectivity comes from being human and experiencing what humans naturally enjoy, where subjectivity is that combined with personal experience to build an actual opinion on weather or not something is actually good.