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Old 2022-07-18, 09:04   Link #1
Infinite Zenith
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Question Behind The Nihon Review and a Case Study on Blogging Longevity

At its apex, Behind The Nihon Review was one of the most well-heeded blogs in the community; the blog's mission had been to provide insightful, fair and comprehensive discussions on anime, and with a large team of authors producing regular content, Behind The Nihon Review rose in prominence, becoming perceived as being comparable to Anime News Network in terms of reputation. However, this was not to last. It began with their 3D tag cloud plugin failing, followed swiftly by a steadily decreasing comment count, and by the mid-2010s, the blog had largely become inactive, posting only about seasonal thoughts semi-annually and "power rankings", a series where a series' performance was compared as a season progressed. These articles were a far cry from the insightful and comprehensive discussions the blog had stated would form the bulk of their discussion. In the quiet of Behind the Nihon Review's own forum, remaining members of Behind The Nihon Review's writing staff lamented this decline, wondering why the admin of the site, Sorrow-kun, couldn't just transfer admin acccess over to someone who was willing to maintain the site. One of the team members suggested that the reason for this decline was because of shifting trends in anime discussion, that fans were increasingly of a "instant gratification" mindset and that the dense analysis at Behind The Nihon Review hadn't kept up with the fact that people's attention spans were supposedly shorter, unwilling to read lengthier, thought-provoking content that challenged their world view (they had experimented with podcasts, but this proved unsuccessful).

These claims are untrue: anime blogging is still very much alive and well: WordPress bloggers are still very much active, and speaking from personal experience, my own blog receives the same traffic that Behind The Nihon Review did at the height of their popularity. Despite the rise of Twitter and Reddit reactions, and YouTube review channels, blogging remains a steady means of publishing one's thoughts and engaging with the community. The problem that Behind The Nihon Review encountered has nothing to do with the format of their content, as their foray into podcasting demonstrates, but everything to do with the manner in which their blog wrote about content. When Sorrow-kun became Behind The Nihon Review's lead writer and admin, he took on the position with the aim of making the blog a starting point for impacting the industry, which Sorrow-kun had felt to be saturated with slice-of-life series. To this end, Sorrow-kun would write constantly of how slice-of-life was degrading studios and the quality of works in a given season, and expected that Behind The Nihon Review's writers would toe the party line. Nowhere is this more visible than through their K-On! reviews. Each of the reviews, two for the television series and one for the film, were written by different authors but utilise the same language, format and come to the same conclusion. Sorrow-kun himself argued that there was a single objective measure for quality in slice-of-life anime and framed it such that under this measure, shows like K-On! were "objectively" poor. Reviews and articles were dotted with reptitive language: over time, "mediocrity" would become the go-to word for dismissing a series, and even in discussions unrelated to slice-of-life, snide remarks were often directed to slice-of-life and their viewers.

Maintaining such a negative tone is unsustainable: readers tired of the lack of variety and constant bashing of a genre (Sorrow-kun could not resist criticising K-On! whenever the opportunity presented itself), while writer turnover was high because being told to conform with the site's branding (of hating slice-of-life) greatly limited the creative freedom writers need to be successful. Unsurprisingly, Sorrow-kun would eventually stop writing for Nihon Review, and in a discussion on their forums, Behind The Nihon Review's staff expressed decreasing morale as a result of the dropping visitor count and engagement (via comments). Decreasing morale resulted in a corresponding drop in motivation to write, and the reduced article count further contributed to the site's eventual inactivity. Comments that this was a consequence of changes in readers' expectations is to blame-shift and deflect responsibility; Behind The Nihon Review's decline was not a consequence of readers demanding new formats like YouTube videos or podcasts, but rather, the fact that Behind The Nihon Review's insistence on hating a genre resulted in repetitive, poor quality content that gave readers little incentive to keep reading and commenting.

Today, Behind The Nihon Review's domain has expired, resulting in their entire legacy being reduced to a mere footnote in the annals of anime blogging. The lesson here is simple enough: a successful blogger builds their branding around positivity and sincerity, as well as promoting discussion and openness towards other perspectives, rather than attempting to control the narrative, lecture readers and otherwise trying to dissuade people from liking things contrary to one's own interests through pseudo-academic means. The results speak for themselves; I've been blogging for as long as Sorrow-kun has, and my blog still maintains its engagement. This is where my question comes in: why was Behind The Nihon Review so widely respected during its run when much of their content ended up being thinly-veiled attempts to tell people what to think?
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Old 2022-07-19, 01:52   Link #2
Sheba
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Quote:
This is where my question comes in: why was Behind The Nihon Review so widely respected during its run when much of their content ended up being thinly-veiled attempts to tell people what to think?
I am not going to write a wall of text, but being around for long, I can remember that it was cool to hate on the slice of life/Cute Girls Doing Cute Things genre (and the studio KyoAni crystalized that Cool Thing to Do). We were in the late 2000s-2010s. All talk about the genre, and that studio, became toxic. It reached a point that any series talk that reached those territories, the mods of this forum will close the thread or delete posts.

So there may be the reason why it was popular: people flocking to places where their views are validated. And it did it with, what I'd say as a native French who dont have much command on English, Big Words. That give the impression that it is well articulated (*). I think it gives them the impression they are much more sophisticated individuals. But as you say, too much toxicity eventually drive people away. And places filled with overwhelming negativity (as in shoving everyone's throats with THEIR preference for anime and hatred for certain tropes) like 4chan, anidb, ann, etc, are simply too big to fail. Meaning people wanting to hate on something will always find some place to go.

Also, the hatred on slice-of-life and Cute Girls Doing Cute Things have shifted on Isekai since mid-2010s and it look like it wont stop until Japan stop adapting all the godamn isekai light novels under the sun. So, on the brighter side, series like Yuru Camp and Healing Girls were allowed to be discussed and loved for what they aimed to do, without having the toxic people ruin people's enjoyment (someone in twitter have pointed out this fact. Healing Girls would have been bashed to oblivion in the late 2000s early 2010s). And in a time where terrorism is rampant, fascism is openly embraced, work conditions and environment is changing for the worse, slice of life is a balm for our minds filled with anxiety. Sometimes, we just want to swallow the blue pill because we realized that, in our scale, we are powerless, with no political clout and none of the wealth to make a significant change.


(*) In the french youtube cinema vlogging, there is a vlogger who uses his education and his quoting of philosophers like Nietzche to bash Hollywood entertainment, while praising French movies. While failing to grasp that French people run away from French movies because those tell the same fucking stories (spouses cheating each other) over and over.
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Last edited by Sheba; 2022-07-19 at 02:44.
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Old 2022-07-19, 07:26   Link #3
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This is actually the first time I've even heard of "Behind the Nihon Review". I've always thought the biggest anime blog around, which has maintained its longevity, is Random Curiosity. I discovered it when Blood+ was airing, I mainly used it as a source of spoilers since the guy running it (one man back then) wrote reviews and posted lots of screenshots soon after the episode aired, and in a time where it took a while for subs to show up, it was valuable.

Anyway, that Sorrow guy was definitely wrong to use his blog as an outlet for his hatred for a certain genre of anime. Slice of life has always been a great genre IMO, especially the "healing" subset, and I'm certainly glad it's now widely accepted.
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Old 2022-07-19, 08:04   Link #4
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Random C was really big for a long time. That and Star Crossed were my gateway anime sites. I was one of the first people Divine brought in to help out at RC and I can tell you it's still quite popular, though anime blogs generally don't have the traffic they did five or ten years ago. It's a sideline for me (LiA is very much my main gig) but I enjoy being a part of a site with so much history.

As for BtNR, I confess I never really read it at any point in my anime journey. Was it really that popular? I would concur generally with the idea that subsisting on snark is not tenable in the long-term in this field, though obviously I have my own issues with certain genres in anime. For the most part I just don't write about those shows - it's not edifying to mock them for the sake of mocking them and people can like what they want. The toughest part for me is that those genres (primarily CGDCT - an acronym I coined, AFAIK - and isekai) have become so dominant now that the medium as a whole is much less diverse.
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Old 2022-07-20, 07:32   Link #5
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I think the age of honest, civil discourse is long gone. Anime fans are increasingly more likely to hack you or swat you if you dare to not agree with them. I honestly feel the mid 2000s was the best time to become an anime fan. Access to titles had started to open up but not too much. You could find enough people that only shared your view to a point but were civil and gave you a different perspective that was worth discussing. You had to be patient for material to appear and grateful when something good appeared. It honestly felt like a community vibe was worth it. The days around here in the late 00s/early 10s were really something.

And then everything became shill and/or degeneracy communities/channels. I honestly believe streaming has made the anime fandom a worse place. I'm chilled to think of what it would be like now to try and become an anime fan. In short, I honestly feel that the bigger Youtubers, the various communities and news sites - they are blatantly telling you want to them. Because they're either sponsored and want that money to keep rolling in, or they are so entitled now they would probably feel killing you over merely disagreeing about their favourite show/character as being utterly justified. And with that, what is being adapted/written is getting narrower and repetitive. Which makes for the rare exception to be very worthwhile, but the wait for one keeps getting longer.
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Old 2022-07-20, 09:25   Link #6
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While I obviously have a vested interest, I do think the biggest anime presences on the net - websites like ANN, YouTubers - largely get big by feeding people what they want to hear. They're part of the industry's marketing arm, basically.

It's easy for me to throw stones, because who knows how I'd react if someone waves enough money in my face. Do I wish my site and YT channel were big enough to be my primary source of income? Absolutely. But thin gruel as it is, at least I say what I want and about what I want.
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Old 2022-07-20, 11:48   Link #7
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Looking back based on my personal experience I think its not that bad.

During 00-10's era I do notice there's significant amount of cynicism into "cute girls doing cute things" but as Sheba said, it something akin to case of now "Isekai". When it done in moderation its good, however the explosion caused a lot of production committee think they can get away with low quality execution because "cute girls doing cute things" mantra worked like a charm for sales (or VN, or isekai, chose your poison); can't say its poor decision because on production side one will always wanted to optimize sales.

The hate is understandable because part of that era charm is a lot of anime blogger building for identity following bigger ones like Random Curiosity.
Mecha-specialized blog, mystery-reaction specialized blog and many more. VN and LN adaptation still worked for them as it doesn't come with fixed theme allowing various stories taken, but when cute girls doing cute things taking over, as in increasing to the point a lot of anime for a year using similar premise (just like how a lot of isekai-ed people having some kind of OP skills), is it strange for dissatisfaction increased it became concentrated? I don't think not-as-positive-as-me in certain works have serious correlation to longevity in blogging compare to connections, writing style and information quality.

Back then there's this blog I followed, specialized on posting summary of LNs, it doesn't active anymore; 10+ years inactive (closed) as far as I could remember. Its not popular like RC, the traffic is small, like 3-5 people, I think. Sometimes talked about "Why I think this LN deserved anime adaptation" after the summaries. One day, the owner said he will not posting regularly because it became harder to made talk about it as lack of variety following cute girls doing cute things trend spell incoming lack of care to sub-culture like chuuni, mecha, etc unless supported by big player like Gundam, super popular like Idolmaster, or can be incorporated with cute girls doing cute things; not much hope to LN compare to before he grew disliked it. Kinda feel bad for him because he's big fan of Aria, which belong to that category.

By now, I'd like to believe as long one gave proper explanation to "Why I dislike this", people will understand.
"I dislike this movie because standard moeblob stuff that can be done in regular episode, also poor detailing on activities" is understandable for me. Then again, by current standard following rise of social media, this kind of statement equal to act of haters, person far from being credible, not my friend anymore and anything synonymous. LOL.

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Old 2022-07-20, 21:36   Link #8
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First I want to say that I don't really like the opening of this thread because it is nearly a screed that borders on a personal insult to the owner of this now-defunct site. The conclusion drawn is agenda-driven and not objective at all: there's no evidence whatsoever that the reason for their loss in popularity was because they offered harsh critiques of moe slice-of-life shows like K-On, or that changing those opinions would have led to a different outcome. "I'm still here and you're not" is not itself proof of anything; there are so many reasons a community dies out, and it's far too simplistic to blame it all on one factor (that may not even really be a true reason at all). We don't need to keep taking potshots at specific people after they're already gone from the scene in an effort to prove some sort of point.

That being said... I do remember this "era" and I, too, was annoyed at the time with what sometimes seemed to be sanctimonious gatekeepers trying to tell people that the shows they legitimately enjoyed were "objectively garbage" (even though there was very little objective about any of it). But now, it seems to me that people like this blog owner and others who wrote in that style were trying to find their audience of peers -- likeminded people who were interested in the same kind of academic-style writing and discussion they enjoyed, and shared similar views on popular trends. In that sense, it's not so different from why any of the rest of us spend time discussing anime culture online. In some ways they fed off the strong negative emotional reaction they got from "fanboys" -- they were a sort of "counterculture" that enjoyed being a bit provocative. But I think a lot of time was wasted trying to argue with them when, really, people could have just focused more on speaking positively and cogently about what they enjoy and why. This too is a way of finding a peer group of people who enjoy anime and share similar tastes, and I know a lot of people here on this very forum found likeminded anime fans because of that.

The other thing is... a lot of the authors on that blog, and people with opinions like theirs, were "anime junkies" who tried to watch "all the anime" and wanted to try to have academic opinions on absolutely everything. Some of them were trying to be the absolute "art connoisseurs" of anime. And I really think that, just like some professional movie/TV/game critics, this can cause people to get jaded and become really entrenched in the kinds of experiences that they still find fulfilling after so much oversaturation. The kinds of experiences that stick out as being the cream of the crop to those people are not necessarily going to be the same shows that the average person is going to find the most entertaining. The problem isn't necessarily that the average person is less cultured or experienced, but can also be that the junkie doesn't have the balance of healthy moderation to keep their senses in check. (For example, they tend to overvalue the "unique" experience rather than a comforting/familiar experience, and the latter is a huge factor for entertainment.)

Whenever you read any sort of opinion or critique, you always have to take into account the writer's own bias and perspective. Just because someone is a good writer and seems to make smart arguments doesn't mean they're "objectively correct" about what makes good entertainment for any given person. The one problem these writers often had is that they became entrenched in their reasons for watching anime and the factors of their own personal enjoyment (and those of their like-minded friends) that they missed the fact that other people are wired differently, and enjoying something for different reasons doesn't mean you're somehow inferior. But of course, if we in turn look down on them for the reasons for their own personal enjoyment, we're not so different.

So anyway, I guess all this to say... I think we should aim for more understanding of people with different opinions about topics like these, and that includes the authors of this old blog being criticized posthumously (the blog is what's dead, of course). Even if you disagreed with their point of view and took objection to their tone sometimes, seeing other opinions helps you sharpen your own understanding of what you like and don't like, and can help you learn to articulate why. Sometimes you can find just as good recommendations for yourself by reading critics you always disagree with. And besides that... I really think it's time to let go of these old grudges by old critics who you feel wronged you and the shows you liked in the past. Whatever they said didn't take the shows you loved away from you anyway, so it's really all water under the bridge.
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Old 2022-07-20, 23:00   Link #9
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First, I appreciate all of the feedbacks. The main takeaway here, Relentlessflame, is actually that applying an academic approach wasn't ever going to work if one had intended to use it to tear down, mock or denigrate. Guardian Enzo and Sheba raise excellent points: writing for these reasons is unproductive, and attempts to define objectivity and shoehorning academic methods into blogging is inherently challenging. Conversely, bloggers who wrote much more casually, with the intent of, as you say, being positive, had a lot more fun with the pursuit and found themselves engaging with the community in a more meaningful way, enough to sustain their hobby over a longer timeframe.

Random Curiosity is a fantastic example of this: although they've gone through many writers over the years, their best writers all share in common the willingness to dispense with academic methods for a more approachable and accessible touch. They tend to speak from the heart and describe what worked for them, or what didn't work, from a value-laden perspective, and that made their content more meaningful. Were I to have asserted that I alone had practised methods that made my blog long-lasting, Relentlessflame, you would have a point. However, Random Curiosity and many other blogs have fond longevity because they are positive. Behind the Nihon Review, in trying to be provocative, struggled precisely because their mindset was one of negativity, and maintaining this over the long run would be nastily exhausting. My point therefore stands: the emphasis on negativity by means of academic methods did them no favours.

In this case, I have no qualms with Behind Nihon Review's hatred of K-On! per se, but I am suggesting that trying to use more obscure vocabulary and references to philosophy, sociology, etc. as a means of impressing, or intimidating viewers to justify their position (where a personal, subjective response would be significantly more valuable) comes across as being extremely disingenuous. This wouldn't be as large of an issue were it not for the fact that people in the day agreed with them without fully understanding what was being said, and Last Sinner has (correctly) noted that things today are perhaps worse in some circles: unfortunately, people have a tendency of falling for things that "sound smart". On reflection, this thread may potentially be in violation of some forum rules, but I've long wondered why others felt drawn to this specific approach and might even be willing to defer to someone else's opinions on the virtue that there's a lot of flowery language. Sheba has proposed an explanation that makes sense, and I will clarify: I don't look down on what people like and dislike (I could have easily written endless articles on my own disapproval of isekai, but I acknowledge people have legitimate reasons for enjoying them!), but I hate it when people agree with sophisticated-sounding folks who only sound smart without giving other perspectives fair consideration.
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Old 2022-07-21, 05:40   Link #10
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Originally Posted by Infinite Zenith View Post
applying an academic approach wasn't ever going to work if one had intended to use it to tear down, mock or denigrate. Guardian Enzo and Sheba raise excellent points: writing for these reasons is unproductive, and attempts to define objectivity and shoehorning academic methods into blogging is inherently challenging. Conversely, bloggers who wrote much more casually, with the intent of, as you say, being positive, had a lot more fun with the pursuit and found themselves engaging with the community in a more meaningful way, enough to sustain their hobby over a longer timeframe.
Honestly, it seems to me that a lot of the people who wrote these kinds of essays (whether on blogs like that one or even on this forum) did it because they found fulfillment in the process of writing about, analyzing, and critiquing anime in this way/style. Obviously it's gratifying to be part of a community of like-minded people, but that isn't necessarily why people start a blog in the first place or what keeps them motivated to keep on writing.

If your goal is to build a large, diverse audience, then I do agree there's a benefit in remaining somewhat non-judgmental and being more open to different experiences (while still obviously having a clear opinion/voice). But not everyone is seeking to build large, diverse audiences with their blog; some people just want to write in a way that is authentic to how they feel, even if it means limiting their reach and excluding some people. Perhaps this makes you more "niche" in what is already a niche community, but it's certainly feasible to do that.

Just because you're a good writer doesn't mean you have the talent for community-building or any real interest in it. If the writer started losing their interest in writing about anime, perhaps they felt no further obligation to the community that built up around it and thought it was time for everyone to move on. Building something that survives the founder is not easy, especially when that founder has very strong characteristics (like, in this case, strong opinions and a specific, articulate writing style).

Also, I suspect your perception of the negativity of this blog was specifically because you personally felt targeted by it as a fan of slice-of-life shows (which, as others in this thread mentioned, were sort of "cool to hate" back in that time due to being a bit over-represented). But I'm not sure that most people would have defined that blog as really being all that "negative" on the whole. I'm still not convinced the real issue was being either positive or negative in particular. I suspect it's more likely that the site had a very specific "voice," it was a hard act to follow when the founder lost interest (and there was no real "succession plan" or support for that process), and the site wasn't able to transition into its next act. It's a common problem that extends far beyond the anime blogging world and really can apply to any group or organization that's very "founder-centric."

---

A sort of related point here, but I had many discussions in the past with people, including these kinds of critics, about the importance of "tone." Academic writing teaches people to be as clinical as possible and to try to eliminate opinion or the "self" from the essay -- it's just about making assertions and justifying it with evidence/facts. But I am still not convinced that this alone is really the best way/format to discuss media in most cases. I still believe in being more open/upfront about the "self" and the role your own experiences and preferences play in forming your perceptions. Ultimately, I think writing about how you experience media is, in no small part, writing about yourself. (And this is why when you use strongly-objective-sounding language to describe something subjective, it can come across as a slight to others with a different perspective.) So that was really my frustration with people who liked to write in that style (and wanted others to debate them in the same style), and in that sense I do agree with some of the concerns raised to some degree.

There have certainly been cases on this forum over the years where certain posters had a skill of using extremely flowery and grandiose words to tell people "anyone who likes this show is a complete idiot." Sometimes I had to moderate those sorts of posts, and even ban repeat offenders, but there was a group of people who seemed to never understand or catch it at all. The personal attack was couched between very well-written prose that seemed, on one level, to be kind of reasonable -- it didn't have any "bad words" and didn't say straight-out that someone's an idiot. But you can't just be here to lord your opinion over others either; this site is about facilitating a discussion between peers from many different backgrounds/perspectives. So again, I do think I agree with several of the underlying thoughts, just not entirely with the way all this was framed.
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