Insight to my Review System – Part 2
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.