Insight to my Review System – Part 2

[HorribleSubs] Owarimonogatari - 10 [720p].mkv_snapshot_21.30_[2016.02.15_19.13.23]

So in this part, we will finally delve into what goes into my mind, what I consider when I actually review/grade. Before I begin though, I’m going to slightly brief through how I usually structure my reviews. I usually start with an introduction, then a synopsis to describe the story’s premise. After that, I critique the story, characters, technicalities (graphics, sound, etc…) and finally, a conclusion, all in that order; albeit with pictures in between.

So in it’s basic skeletal structure, this is how most my reviews usually look like:

Skeleton structure of most of my reviews. Notice how I use pictures to separate the different segments.

Skeletal structure of most of my reviews. Notice how I use pictures to separate the different segments.

Now towards the end of my review, you will see that I always score a title too, which I will get to in a little bit more, but I want everyone to focus on the upper parts of the grading: the one where I graded individual departments (Story, Characters, etc…) with traditional school grades-which are also elements I obviously talked about in the main review itself. I want to get a little bit more in each of these to show just what goes into my mind whenever I grade/review those.

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Story and Characters

So when I mention story, it of course refers to the plot-the sequence of the story. This obviously covers many things though-like the pacing of a story, flow, thematic focus but sometimes even more conceptualized elements like settings, premise, atmospheres, world-building, ideas and concepts. For example, say what you will about Heavy Object, but it definitely has an interesting concept, which definitely get some points from me for the “Story” department. I do admit the anime adaption made some poor choices but come on, watching Quenser and Havia blowing gigantic shit up is cool as fuck. What? It’s only me? Okay…

I also think it’s important to understand the genre and culture behind it if you’re reviewing said title. Let’s say if I were to review shows like GochiUsa, YuruYuri or any moe/slice of life anime, the term “story” would start to get tricky. By understanding the genre more thoroughly however, you can work out the elements within the confines of “story”. Like, I can say something a thousand “anti-moe” anime viewers have been saying, “This is a shitty moeblob show! It has no plot!”. But that’s a very horrible criticism since that’s the wrong mindset when watching moe shows to begin with. K-ON’s story is that of a group of aspiring musicians and their Light Music Club-whose procrastination is their greatest enemy. Non Non Biyori’s story is that of a young girl and her family who moved to the rural area. GochiUsa is a story of a young girl who moved to a new town and depicts her lifestyle at her new home. These -are- stories. Furthermore, they are slice of life, so while there are no drama (or just minimal), developments definitely exist, just in subtle forms. So within the confines of “story”, which in contrast to plot developments, these shows opted for a more atmospherically approach-I would say they have good “stories”. Furthermore, these shows usually have great and fun characters which are the driving forces behind such shows. I can seriously write an entire post just talking about this, but I digress.

And speaking of characters, let’s jump to that part now. When I review/grade about characters, this may cover things like the character’s personality and developments. Characters who also underwent a “try-fail cycle” development is something I won’t fail to mention as well. Of course, aside from analyzing characters from just an individualistic standpoint, I may also look at the character cast as a whole-especially in regards to their relationships, dynamics and chemistry. In particular, good foils are something I usually take notice of, as it usually creates many interesting dynamics between characters. Developments on the romance aspects of the characters are also something I will comment if it’s relevant, especially true if it’s a romance anime.
 

39648-sakamichi-no-apollon-the-band-plays

Sound

I’m going to skip and talk about sound first, since the visual part is going to be lengthy. Anyway for sound, the thing that I always take notice of first and foremost, is the OST. You can never go wrong with OSTs, and a good one especially would match the scene’s mood and atmosphere. Say for example, a sad ballad for a sad scene, a calm song for a slice of life moment, an adrenaline-pumping song for an action scene, I’m describing all these as very basic ideas, but if an anime manage to achieve this, it has great OST, even more so if the actual songs are so good you can listen to them as standalone. But of course, “Sound” doesn’t really have to confine themselves with the actual songs. There are sometimes scenes where silence would actually be a better idea, and if the anime actually opted for an non-OST approach there and it fits the scene tremendously, I will still reward the Sound department with a higher mark due to the sound director making such a brilliant choice.

“Sound” may also cover things like voice actors, OPs, EDs and insert songs but not as much focus. I may comment on any of these if I found something which jumped on me, but in most cases, OSTs are the one I focus on the most.
 

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Visuals

As for visuals, aforementioned, this is going to be a bit lengthy, but before I begin, I’m going to copy/paste something I commented on a long ago, since it’s very relevant to what I’m going on about now.

“I had been thinking for awhile, but I think I would actually hesitate to say new anime is better visually. Technically speaking, they are better of course. In terms of details, complexity, colors and so on, art quality for modern anime had really improved by leaps and bounds compared to before, one reason I assume is because the heavier reliance on computers instead of the traditional pencil and paper.

But the problem here is that most artists in Japan seem to have develop a huge consensus as far as art philosophy and techniques are concerned. Most anime nowadays look “pretty”, but aesthetically/thematically speaking, it’s a different matter altogether. It’s seems as if every studios in Japan are following the same template, there are far less “unique” art styles in modern anime, or ones that actually fit thematically; other than looking “pretty”. Not to say they don’t exist of course, some newer anime like Attack on Titan, Monogatari, Madoka, Kanagatari, Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia are some titles which fulfilled their aesthetic/thematic concept. Are these “unique” looking anime lesser though? I would say yes.

Another thing to note, I have a belief that the more detailed and realistic your designs are, the weaker the expressions and the dynamics. Look at One Piece for example, it’s character designs are simple and, for the lack of better word, “cartoonish”, but because of that, they have the aesthetic freedom to draw their characters in ridiculous manner, i.e. Luffy stretching his arms, his body expanding/contracting like a balloon, etc… It looks silly-so much that most modern anime wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

So using that as a basis, anime like Monogatari isn’t objectively better than say Osomatsu-san visually, despite having an outdated design. In fact, I would say both of them are on par in terms of being conceptualized to their aesthetic themes-and this is something I take into account when I grade scores for visuals. I mean, it’s definitely hard to make an anime aesthetically pleasing, pretty, and all, but it’s even harder to make them fit your aesthetic/thematic needs.

Another thing of note-you might notice that in my anime reviews, I usually have both “Art” and “Animation” graded in separate departments, and it’s important to know that both of them refer to completely different things, which I feel even to this day, is something quite a few people are confused with. “Art” pretty much refers to things like static graphics and designs-so things like character designs, colors and backgrounds. In an anime, there will usually be different kind of artists (NOT animators) like storyboard artists, background artists who work on the different aspects of the anime’s visuals.

In this example, this particular cut requires 8 frames.

In this example, this particular scene requires 8 frames.

Animation is where it really makes the anime comes alive, to give the most simplest explanation, animation pretty much equates to “motions”. Animations in general can cover elements like motions, camera movements, lighting and so on. An animator’s job usually involve drawing multiple images called “frames”-and these frames when put together, create or “animate” for the lack of better word, movements. One single anime episode consists of thousands of frames. As you can see in the above example, 8 frames are needed for that small cut, and it’s actually just a 1-second cut. Imagine a 20-minutes episode! (For the record, that gif is taken from here, which I recommend you to watch it if you’re interested, as it gives interesting insights behind key animations)

For example, One Punch Man has INCREDIBLY animated fight scenes.

One Punch Man has INCREDIBLY animated fight scenes. Notice how dynamic the motions are.

When I review animations, all these come into consideration-and I’m especially critical on action scenes where it would definitely require a lot of frames in between to make the motions appear fluid and smooth. But regardless of bad or good animations, I think we can all agree that anime production, especially on the visual side of things is tough work, and I can really appreciate the work put into animations regardless.
 

xenoblade-chronicles-x-wallpaper

Visuals (Video Games)

As for this bonus part, I’ll go into what I think are “good graphics” in video games. I think it’s safe to say that games have really grown as a medium, something which is only known for it’s interactivity and hand-eye coordination has really evolved as it’s own medium.

Now reviewing graphics in video games can be a bit tricky, it’s important to know what confines as “good graphics” within reasonable terms. For example, you should grade a PSP game within the limits of PSP graphics, and not giving it a bad score just because it isn’t PS4-level graphics. If it IS PS4-level graphics, and only then I get more critical and comment on technical details like resolution, jaggy edges, character models, world and so on. Similarly, if I were to review an indie game, I will try to review it within the confines of indie game-and additionally, I’ll also try to see if the developers are able to creatively use their limited resource to still able to make a visually-appealing game. Because while graphics are important in games, it’s the other elements of the game working in harmony that makes the graphics appear even more better than it seems.

For example, interactivity. You can pool in massive resources to make the best-looking game ever, but it doesn’t make any sense if I can only navigate just 1/10th of the world (with 9/10th of the world just in the background). Newer Final Fantasy games are often criticized for this, in fact, this is also one major reason why XIII did so poorly. I went into all these in detail in this post where I talked about the “extra components” which makes good graphics in video games, so you can check it out if you want.

I’ll brief through visual novels quickly because this post is really getting lengthier than I thought. As for visual novels, I usually scrutinize the quality of the sprites and backgrounds first and foremost, since as far as graphics are concerned, sprites and backgrounds are really the most skeletal basis of visual novels. Then I comment on character models and CGs (for example, while Rewrite definitely has great graphics, the characters’ facial design often comes off as a little odd, which is recurring thing for a Key title unfortunately). Last but not least, additional features like zooming, panning and sprite animations (mouth movements on sprites when characters are talking, sprites resizing from small to big to give you an illusion of a distance, etc…) are simple features, but effective and give the visual novels a graphical edge, makes them appear more luxurious than they seem-and it’s something I will definitely award more points if I see such features implemented.

[HorribleSubs] Seitokai Yakuindomo S2 - 07 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.40_[2014.03.22_17.44.50]

That’s it for this post. For the next and final part of this series of post, I will finally get to grading, but nonetheless, I think you can at least see just how much thoughts and consideration are usually went in reviews, and I’m not just talking about mine but all reviews in general. A good reviewer understands the many different components that made up a title, comprehend their history and the nature of the medium and review accordingly.

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This entry was posted by Kai.

6 thoughts on “Insight to my Review System – Part 2

  1. I love reading your posts because they give me something to think about while my intestines are squeezing the last bit of crap through my anus. (LOL)

    Now obviously I can’t really speak for Console Games or Anime, but you’re already aware that I’m big with Visual Novels, and wanted to make a contribution.

    I want to heavily agree with you that spoilers are the “Necessary Evil”; required to really prove your point, but also makes the entire title seem a bit dull after you present every last bit of the detail. The thing in VNs on the other hand, is that there needs to BE something spoiler-worthy for it to be a spoiler. Simply put, if the entire VN is a harem school-life charage, there’s really nothing you can “spoil” about the game; this is why I would usually just flat out say everything included in the heroine route and warn the readers in advance.

    Now if it’s something like Sorcery Jokers or something super story-oriented, then yes. I would go NOPE on any form of spoilers and even double check my review to make sure I don’t accidentally include anything that can ruin the story for someone who may be reading my review midway.

    One thing I do want to mention is that I disagree somewhat with your comment that reviews are completely subjective. While you do have your point that the author may like X over Y, and thus being a subjective criticism, there are some things that are objective, such as protagonist roles (e.g. a “bad” example is a spineless protagonist who’s the center of the story for absolutely no reason), character interactions (some charage literally dive into H-scenes almost immediately into heroine route without much interaction between heroine and protagonist), and even OST can be objective (One of the games I’ve played in the past had tracks that had distinctive “cutoffs” when looping). I’ve made painstaking efforts to make all of my reviews as neutral and objective as possible in this manner (basically explain why something is bad or good), and admittedly I think I’m doing a poor job and I can definitely do better. By the way, I can provide distinct examples of what I thought was good or bad (i.e. ask me “what title had OBJECTIVELY good/bad X?” and I’ll do my best to answer)

    Nonetheless, while me liking a loli character is a subjective element, me liking said loli character having enough of an interaction with the protagonist before romantic relationships occur is more of an objective one.

    To make it easier for you, I actually contemplated about what kind of things can be considered “objective” opposed to subjective, since it’s entirely possible to argue that “joyjason prefers a story-oriented game and that’s his personal preference, and thus subjective”.

    The keyword that I coined is “Reality Resemblance”, or how much basis it has in reality. Basically, for a romance to be considered “good” in an objective manner, it would need to meet a similar fashion as how we see it in real life: starting out by 1) an encounter, 2) building trust at first, 3) finding an attractive trait about each other, and then 4) sharing affection. A large majority of charage skip steps 1, 2, and 3, allowing reviewers like myself to say that “romance sucks in this game” since it doesn’t contain all four parts that we generally see in a normal romantic development in real life.

    Fantasy elements are slightly more difficult in the sense it can be anything. In this case, I’d say that it should just avoid any form of “Deus ex machina” at all costs, or a conflict that’s solved by an unexplained and unexpected element: e.g. character achieves super powers randomly to win a battle, characters suddenly decide to become apathetic about their problems or the problem resolves on its own, an incest stigma is completely negated when the siblings “prove their love to each other”, and etc. If it can pretty much avoid this abrupt resolution, most fantasy elements can be done “objectively” well.

    For future parts of this series, would you consider discussing how a fair portion of “reviewers” utilize only a small portion of the scale they choose? (e.g. how some people only give scores from 6-10 when using the 1-10 scale or how no one seems to want to give an “F” to a game even if it was horrible)

    Thanks!

    • So you mean to say my post is shit!? xD

      Yeah, it’s about the same as every other medium, there are some less story-driven titles out there which as a result, doesn’t really have much to spoil in the first place. In visual novels, most of these titles are definitely your typical moege. But regardless if it’s story-orientated or not, I personally still try to avoid spoilers if I can, though sometimes it’s really, really unavoidable.

      But if that’s the case, I can make a subjective argument by saying “The main character may seem wimpy, spineless, but becomes a rather relatable character after going through painstaking try-and-fail cycles of character development”. But I guess, still depends on which exact title you’re talking about. Another thing of note is that what you mention here is more of tropes, and even for tropes, they are people who may appreciate certain tropes and they are some who don’t. Honestly, I may write all these posts but I don’t even know what to think now, lol. Objectivity VS Subjectivity discussion is serious business. You mentioning about the loop is interesting though, I don’t know why I never take notice of them all that much myself. I recently played Kara no Shoujo 2 and the music awkwardly stops for like a few seconds before the loop restarts, guess I can take more notice of this when reviewing future visual novels.

      Regarding your “Reality Resemblance” and how some titles skip step 1,2 and 3. Maybe it’s because we play completely different visual novels, but I don’t see this as much of a problem tbh. Most visual novels, even the more shittier ones I read had at least some level of natural build-up so they aren’t as bad as how you described it, although the problem persists a little more in visual novels with an “obvious canon route”, in which the other “lesser” routes take the fall.

      Definitely agree with you with the fantasy elements though. I guess whether or not it’s slice of life or fantasy, the main point here is “natural build-up and consistency”. A visual novel, or hell, any medium, can already be pretty good if they can achieve that.

      Hmm, I won’t be discussing about that topic in my next post, but mostly to explain my own scoring system. The main focus of this series of posts is to let people know the technicalities and mindset behind my own reviews. But regarding your question, it’s rare for people to rate their titles ridiculously low, since they won’t be watching them in the first place (though personally, I scored 3-4 myself before). And as for “F”, that’s almost the numerical equivalent of 0 so I would think it’s even more unlikely, lol.

      • I’d never call your posts shit! They’re often very thought provoking and the last analogy was a joke XD

        Seems we have a relatively stronger agreement with the usage of spoilers, so I won’t be talking too much about that.

        On the other hand, subjective vs. objective is still something we may need to discuss, including the concept of “steps” lacking in VNs. As you’ve suggested, it seems that I hit a lot of more VNs that lack this proper process, which is admittedly more common in the recent commercial releases, as opposed to more indie or older VNs that you may enjoy. I do not say that all VNs lack these “steps” of romance, but since each and all of them with H-scenes always try to include some form of affection between the protagonist and respective heroine, the producers really need to place more emphasis on how that romance came to exist, or just flat out create a nukige and be done with it.

        “Spineless protagonist” can definitely be “reworded” (courtesy by yourself) into a subjective statement, but I was thinking more of the protagonist in Rensou Relation where the protagonist is essentially a pervert who fails entrance exams and has nothing special about him at all throughout the entire story. In such a case, I had absolutely no way I could turn that into a subjective statement; the protagonist was shit for anyone who played the game… though I can imagine there will be someone who can turn this phrase into a subjective one, perhaps like “Protagonist seems to be a good representitive of the male audience who would be interested in a game like this”

        What I was trying to say is that subjective phrases can be derived and mask the same objective statement, so we instead create something called “standards” to help us actually define objectivity. These are said Transition of Romance and the proper incorporation of fantasy elements within games.

        To be perfectly honest, games that do have a central or “canon” heroine displays relativity, and the other heroines might have a pretty damn good route when compared with other titles; this doesn’t necessary make their routes “bad”, and I’m pretty sure some people would prefer lesser heroine routes than the main ones (e.g. World Election in my case).

        • It was a joke on my side too :p

          “since each and all of them with H-scenes always try to include some form of affection between the protagonist and respective heroine, the producers really need to place more emphasis on how that romance came to exist, or just flat out create a nukige and be done with it. ”
          …which again, is one problem I seen less throughout the visual novels I played, lol. I tried to think of some VNs I played which might have this problem but maybe there’s one out of a hundred? No matter how shit it is, there’s at least some semblance of natural build-up. There are also some more extremely story-driven visual novels I played where I’m definitely less critical of the romance however (since the overarching story is already so impacting). Think the visual novels we played are just too different. For one, I literally never heard of all the titles you mentioned here, lol.

          “To be perfectly honest, games that do have a central or “canon” heroine displays relativity, and the other heroines might have a pretty damn good route when compared with other titles”
          That’s true, but I’m thinking about visual novels like G-Senjou and Steins;Gate when I was saying that. In G-Senjou for example, Haru is obviously the canon route, and I just can’t buy into the Mizuha’s romance side story. With the way the heroines are marketed and with the way the stories are structured, these visual novels have characters who are clear canon routes from the beginning, and with the way the overarching stories are concluded on their very routes (which are always the last in the order), and are always the most relevant one compared to the other routes.

  2. Nice points you made about slice of life anime. I always found their lack of heavy drama fortunate so that I could stop and observe the simpler things in life that they promote. Same with the standpoint on visuals – Newer, though against statistics, isn’t necessarily better. It’s those that can use creative styles with the stories they’re centered on to form a solid piece.

    • Yeah, it’s one of the things I like best about slice of life, most of them aren’t exactly story-driven and instead they rely more on atmosphere and subtlety. And indeed.

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