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Old 2011-12-06, 13:55   Link #21
Irenicus
Le fou, c'est moi
 
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
1) Thematic presentation; most anime have a general theme to it, and may act as a fable, or a commentary on just about any subject matter imaginable. On the other hand, maybe the sole intention is to present its own brand of humour, or in the most recent trends, may not even be about anything in particular at all. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that delves deeply into an anime series'/movie's themes, and discusses it in depth?

2) Technical execution; it's not only about whether there is a story to tell, it's also about how well it is told. Maybe a given anime has a grand narrative in mind, but the question is whether the pacing is right, and whether there are any fridge logic moments in the telling. Besides, the quality of the visual and/or the auditory components of the anime may have an impact on your enjoyment. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that focuses on the quality of the storytelling, as opposed to the content of the story itself?

3) Genre conventions; genres exist for a reason, as stories almost inevitably revisit a given set of tropes based on the genre it's classified as. Because of this, maybe this fact should be kept in mind when judging the merits of any given work, as such judgements may be unnecessarily harsh or lenient otherwise. On the other hand, perhaps any given work is either a good story or otherwise, and there should be no concessions either way simply because it is what it is. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that recognises the conventions each anime series/movie is working in, and how it affects the story overall?
When you wrote "critical analysis" I wonder if you mean the serious, scholarly kind as in literary criticism or not.

Such critical analyses are extraordinarily rare in regards to anime; it is not a field of scholarly interest, at least here in the United States.

Moreover, it is not something a random anime blogger or forumite generally comes up with. Insights, yes, reviews, yes, some analyses, definitely. Occasionally very interesting articles about this and that trope. Although in fandoms like Evangelion there are a lot of attempts at critical analyses in the many discussions that take place, they are rarely written as scholastic pieces of unified, coherent whole; usually they are parts of extended dialogue instead.

Regardless, I will presume that, this being the case, you are asking what I value in such analyses *if* I am reading one, based on the three criteria you listed:

1) Thematic presentation is absolutely central to any worthwhile critical analysis. The critic must engage with the text. To not do so is to not engage in critical analysis of the work itself at all. Maybe its context, maybe its history, maybe its place in the canon of anime, but not the work itself. That does lead to difficulties with comedy, especially of the "gag" variety, but if the gag is the theme -- then what is going on? The critic poses a hypothesis, and answers it.

2) Technical execution are of less direct value. It might be interesting to discuss how the color palette, the angle, the particular animation technique used here and here produce what kind of effect, but a proper critic has to go further from this point. However, they do shed insight into the thematic analysis, especially because anime is a visual medium. Much of the expression of themes come directly from the handling of the execution; a critic who engages with technical execution enriches his thematic analysis. Occasionally, especially in highly visually experimental works, to not do so is to intentionally leave something out.

3) On genre conventions, a thorough critical analysis must demonstrate at least a modicum of awareness of, not necessarily the genre itself, but something I would call "context." It is the same in literary analysis; a critical who analyzes a sonnet without knowing the context of the sonnet may be faithfully following some fringe school of New Criticism, but I am not one of them. If you do not even recognize a harem trope, then you *will* be missing something.

Of course if one is focusing on a salient point or two, it is not necessary to recognize all the heritage that went into Haruhi Suzumiya, nor is it necessary that a critic of new mecha series much necessarily have watched all the old ones to qualify. Thinking, analysis, isn't trivia or legacy, it is a critical mind at work, but the point is to avoid misdirection because the critic fails to recognize the intent of the work*.

*unless you subscribe to the Barthian "Death of the Author" concept, but then I'd argue you are just being egotistical. Also, that's not what Barthe meant!

Note that this is a demand placed on conventional analysis of a work, with the work as the central subject. If a critic is trying to analyze something else, trends in the creative field, specific animation techniques, overall themes across different works, naturally this set of priorities will shift. The key remains the same though, and that is to demonstrate critical thinking and support argument. Show me why you think so.


All this is based on what I look for in this nearly nonexistent literary criticism of anime ("what is the theme of XXX"). What I look for in reviews ("is XXX good") is different. I place a much less scholarly sort of demand on that. I want, to raise some examples, for reviews to be fun to read, to be insightful, not necessarily directly, to put a lot more value into technical aspects (at least tell me if it's pretty), and sometimes I just place myself at the mercy of fallacies, such as the Appeal to Authority, because I trust the opinion of the person in question. I want to be amused sometimes, and an enraged (though preferably coherent), sharp, biting sarcasm of a review can be a great deal more fun than your pseudo-objective general review. That is not acceptable in criticism.

Of course, most people's biting sarcasms aren't nearly as funny or biting they think they are...

But then again, I don't read much formal review. Forum posts reacting to a work is enough to tell me what kind of show it is overall, and the rest I will judge for myself or choose to not do so at all.
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Old 2011-12-06, 14:10   Link #22
4Tran
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
Thanks very much for all your responses, everyone. It has been very enlightening to read all of your different viewpoints, and has taught me a lot about what different people look for in others' critical analyses of our favourite anime.

Well, since leaving it here would be kind of a waste, let's continue with the discussion. It can be said that there are as many different styles of anime criticism as there are anime critics in the world, but in general, critical analyses can generally be roughly categorised by common writing styles and focuses.

From your personal point of view, how much importance do you place on any given critical analyses and/or review having a focus on:
Reviews and critical analyses are different in that they're trying to accomplish different things and are essentially meant for different audiences. A review is based on one or ideally, two, watches of a work. It's written mostly to answer the question "is this show any good?", and the intended reader is either someone who has never seen the work, or maybe has only watched it once. Because it's made with relatively little preparation, there's only so much it can discuss and so the scope is much more limited.

A critical analysis is not primarily designed to talk about whether the subject is good or not. Instead, it's meant to examine a particular facet of its subject in great detail. The main idea is to discuss items that a casual viewer may miss or to introduce new insights about the original work. Alternatively, it's used to form a narrative about specialized subjects like animation techniques, editing or the design process. A critical analysis requires at least watching a show three times (and often much more), in-depth research about the creators, the circumstances of the production, and so on. While readers unfamiliar with the subject may get something out of it, it's meant for people who have already seen the subject.

Critical analyses are very rare in anime, but the animekritik wrote one recently about Gunbuster: http://animekritik.wordpress.com/201...-introduction/. I think that it's pretty easy to see how this kind of highly detailed treatment differs from reviews.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
1) Thematic presentation
Review: A review should bring up a show's major themes if they are important. If they're not, then it can be safely glossed over.

Critical Analysis: If the theme of the show is the subject of the analysis, then it should obviously be talked about in exhaustive detail. If not, then it should only be addressed as needed. The same goes for any symbolism.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
2) Technical execution; it's not only about whether there is a story to tell, it's also about how well it is told. Maybe a given anime has a grand narrative in mind, but the question is whether the pacing is right, and whether there are any fridge logic moments in the telling. Besides, the quality of the visual and/or the auditory components of the anime may have an impact on your enjoyment. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that focuses on the quality of the storytelling, as opposed to the content of the story itself?
I think that you're talking about two different things. How wellspecific element of a story are executed are quite different from how good the storytelling is.

Review: The storytelling is a vital point, and one that good reviewers will address. The quality of the plot is usually far less important than how entertaining the work is. The actual technical aspects can generally be ignored unless they're of exceptional quality; instead, it's the effects that are brought up instead (i.e. "The fight scenes flow smoothly" as opposed to "The editing of the fight scenes accomplished X, Y and Z")

Critical Analysis: How the work executed the storytelling is generally more important than how effective it was. The technical aspects are discussed if that's what the analysis is about. Take the example I linked earlier, the animekritik wasn't interested in stuff like the mecha fights so it just gets a cursory mention.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
3) Genre conventions
Review: I supposed that these should be kept in mind for an objective review, but I've never been a big believer in that. A show should be able to stand on its own regardless of whatever kind of conventions they're supposed to adhere to. American war films are supposed to hokey, overly nationalistic and take great liberties with reality, but I'll still criticize something like Pearl Harbor for being hokey, overly nationalistic and for the liberties it takes.

Critical Analysis: This only really comes up if it's the subject of the work. Being unconcerned with whether the original work is any good means not having to make any excuses for it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Irenicus View Post
When you wrote "critical analysis" I wonder if you mean the serious, scholarly kind as in literary criticism or not.

Such critical analyses are extraordinarily rare in regards to anime; it is not a field of scholarly interest, at least here in the United States.
I'm sure that there's maybe a piece or two every year.
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Old 2011-12-06, 14:55   Link #23
Reckoner
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Join Date: Nov 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
1) Thematic presentation; most anime have a general theme to it, and may act as a fable, or a commentary on just about any subject matter imaginable. On the other hand, maybe the sole intention is to present its own brand of humour, or in the most recent trends, may not even be about anything in particular at all. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that delves deeply into an anime series'/movie's themes, and discusses it in depth?
Depends on the show's intentions, depends on what the critical analysis is.

Assuming this is for a review oriented site such as the Nihon Review, I don't see any particular reason to delve too deeply into analyzing themes, and perhaps more than a few passing words can be spared if the anime is thematically strong. That's because these reviews are extremely short and are almost like extended synopsis in nature, just with opinions added in.

For critical analysis that is part of an in depth blog article or anything of that nature though, hell yes. If people want to really break down a show, I find this unequivocally important. What is the show going for? What is trying to do. The themes being explored need to be fleshed out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
2) Technical execution; it's not only about whether there is a story to tell, it's also about how well it is told. Maybe a given anime has a grand narrative in mind, but the question is whether the pacing is right, and whether there are any fridge logic moments in the telling. Besides, the quality of the visual and/or the auditory components of the anime may have an impact on your enjoyment. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that focuses on the quality of the storytelling, as opposed to the content of the story itself?
For something at the Nihon Review, very important to talk about. For just breaking down a show's themes among other things, not that important (Unless the execution makes things really unclear).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascaloth View Post
3) Genre conventions; genres exist for a reason, as stories almost inevitably revisit a given set of tropes based on the genre it's classified as. Because of this, maybe this fact should be kept in mind when judging the merits of any given work, as such judgements may be unnecessarily harsh or lenient otherwise. On the other hand, perhaps any given work is either a good story or otherwise, and there should be no concessions either way simply because it is what it is. How much value do you place in a critical analysis that recognises the conventions each anime series/movie is working in, and how it affects the story overall?
For something at the Nihon review, extremely important. Like I said before, if you hold criticisms against an entire genre, a sort of bias, your opinion isn't that valuable to people who are trying to ascertain the quality of a show in a particular genre. Someone who understands the intent of a work, and isn't opposed to the genre in question is way more informative than anyone else you can get. They can still ward off the people who dislike these sorts of stuff by saying things like it stays true to the genre, and at the same time give something a bit more for people who want to know if the show is actually good at what it does.

This is something you cannot go without in critical analysis of a show though (For something more in depth where you break it down. It just adds so many extra layers of understanding to a work when you understand where things came from, whether it be from previous works in the genre or even more generally other media forms in general. A lot of things in art always come from somewhere else. Seeing where inspiration is drawn from can help so so much in understanding a work.
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Old 2011-12-11, 15:17   Link #24
TinyRedLeaf
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Join Date: Apr 2006
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I'd been mulling over possible responses to this thread as the subject was once close to my heart. In my case, I drew a lot from the groundwork laid during my days as a literature student, many years ago. I applied methods adapted from literary analysis on a variety of anime I enjoyed and, to my surprise, I found many who responded positively to my views, even when I was being harsh.

I decided in the end that there's not much need to go into a detailed response to your specific questions — others have already given fine answers that echo what I would have said. Suffice to say that I learnt a long time ago that there is no one approach to critical analysis any more than there is just a single approach to creating art. The tools that a critic uses may be similar to those of another, but the conceptual framework he applies would be uniquely his own.

What I also know, from experience, is that examples of superb analysis help build appreciation of what needs to be done far better than multi-page treatises on esoteric technique. There are many people uniquely gifted with the ability to do mental gymnastics on abstract details; there are far, far more people — ordinary people like you and me — who much prefer dealing with the concrete, the plain-and-simple imagery we encounter in our daily lives.

Because, when you can visualise the argument in your mind's eye, that is when understanding is achieved. So, take a gander at how Roger Ebert approached his analysis of one of the most highly respected films in anime:



He makes it look easy, almost effortless. The best artists and critics usually do. The irony, of course, is that there is nothing easy or obvious about the process, yet it simply works. Why?

Because:

1) He uses a great 'hook': Ebert states from the outset that he enjoyed the movie and expresses it in everyday language ("I was moved... just about to tears.") That is, quite simply, his "hook", that all-important introduction that piques the viewers' interest. (Ebert's interested? Really? Why? I must find out more.) He doesn't gush nor feign enthusiasm. He just tells it as it is, without harping on his points or talking down to his audience.

2) He serves his audience, not his ego: Ebert explains everything he lays out. He never assumes that his audience knows the kinds of things he knows about film art and its history. He goes the extra mile to explain the context of Japanese anime to Western viewers more familiar with the technical sophistication of Disney animation. And he never once lapses into jargon, except when it was necessary to explain his point, such as with regard to differences in frame rate between anime and cartoon.

3) He adds value by providing insight: And that insight is uniquely his own, a product of his accumulated knowledge of art history, both Western and Japanese. For example, he relates multiple scenes from the movie with the "pillow words" of Japanese literature, coining his own words — "pillow scenes" — to help viewers visualise the similarities. For the vast majority of people with no prior knowledge on the subject, such pointers are immensely helpful and may even spur some to find out more on their own.

4) He doesn't shy away from his own opinion: Ebert offers his own genial objection to those who may be turned off by the perceived technical deficiencies of anime, by reminding his viewers that, in the end, such things "simply become stylistic details that are less important as the film goes on. You're not looking on the whole film on the basis of some abstract idea of technical excellence. You're looking at it in terms of its excellence as art. And art doesn't depend on how many frames per second, on whether this was done or that was done. It depends on how it makes you feel".


Particularly on that final point: There is no such thing as objective analysis when it comes to reviewing art. How can it possibly be, when it "depends on how it makes you feel"? So, don't fall into the trap of trying to be "objective", to be "unbiased" — that is a fool's game, the sign of someone who is not confident about his opinion.

Of course, you can always be proven wrong, sometimes very embarrassingly so. In which case, eat humble pie, try harder next time and never, ever forget that criticism is a two-way street.
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