Rinko from Omamori Himari.

Plans for a more interesting post fell through this week. We'll try again next week, if the guy who actually knows where to go shows up.

Something I've been puzzled about ever since I discovered online forums and chats and fandoms (ie for fifteen years now) is the prevalence of being critical as a default mode, which strikes me as a little contrary to being, you know, a fan. When I first started I was under the impression that it was enough to like something to be considered a fan, a view which has altered somewhat through the years. I also learned in time that a lot of the friction comes from being a fan of one specific thing, and maybe being a fan of other items of possibly the same shade, and then interacting with fans of who are also fans of that shade but have arrived there from different locales and it all turns into one big tangled mess.

What actually triggered the thought processes for this post was not anime, but games. It was just another of the endless debates on storytelling in RPGs, which inevitably segue into "JRPGs" and "WRPGs". The details are banal and ultimately unimportant, but what struck me the most about the flamewar was that a lot of the people who condemn JRPGs for being "all the same" do not seem to be familiar with very many JRPGs: the vast majority of their reference pool consists of Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 10, with 9, 12 (I'll give a pass on the MMORPG 11), and the ones in the SNES/NES era unmentioned. Even talking about the Persona series, much less Shin Megami Tensei, got blank looks. Dragon Quest was unknown. Earthbound/MOTHER did not count, for some unspecified reason.

I cannot comment on the Other Side, as they were not very well-represented, but the more coherent ones hit upon the high points of Black Isle and its alumni (Bioware, Bethesda, now-defunct Troika, so on and so forth), which could be the same sort of narrow vision I am criticizing here. (I consider myself exempt in this instance because, yanno, I am not criticizing WRPGs for all being the same.)

I say "criticizing", but it's more of an attempt to figure out if I can criticize in the first place. Is there a Right To Criticize that is conferred by… what? A degree after several university courses on storytelling in media? Several degrees? Experience in the things we criticize? Or just experience in the general area of things we criticize? If I play a lot of Final Fantasy, can I talk about Star Ocean? How about Ace Combat? Or do I need to play Tom Clancy's HAWX for that?

Let's transfer this to anime. How many episodes of something should I watch before I can say "I don't like this"? How much of a difference is there between "I don't like this" and "I don't like this now", with the implication that there is a possible mindset during which I will like the show in question? What about the difference between "I like this" and "I don't mind this"? Where is the line between "I don't like this" and "this is not good"?

Am I allowed to give a judgement on a show before it has ended? Eyebrows were raised when I named Kampfer as my favourite show last season before the last few episodes, but I do not see any objections mentioned to people slamming Omamori Himari after… what, two episodes? Is there some sort of definable, distinct, discernible threshold of "good" or "bad" that is accepted by the vast majority of people? And if I am not in this vast majority, should I have to join with that majority? Won't that contradict the message of "don't follow the crowd" that I keep hearing when I profess my love of cute girls in anime? Which crowd is the crowd?

Sometimes I get the feeling that I am only allowed to have opinions in sets, rather than individually-packaged a la carte. If I like this, I should dislike that. If I like both, I am deviant.

I realize that I tend to be harsher on the negative aspects of fandom, such as slamming a show with hyperbole, than the positive aspects, such as praising a show with hyperbole. I suspect this is because the negative aspects usually incur more flamewars than the positive ones, and while I am fine with disagreements, I am only fine with them when they are polite disagreements.

6 Responses to “Overthinking Overgeneralizations”
  1. Panther says:

    People find it way easier to talk about how they disagree with something when they can do it anonymously over the internet. You hide behind a persona online (most of the time, and even among friends who know you in real life, they know and befriend you because they generally agree with you) and get to express your opinions against others'.

    The problem is not expression of opinion but how people are simply just wanting to get their opinion heard out there. It has nothing to do with actually having a right to criticize. "I played the game" or "I watched an episode" is generally enough in most people's minds to define them as having the right to say something about it. The fact is that they want to say something about it and not care about what others said. Or if they do, generally just to disagree and start flame wars or arguments that ultimately lead nowhere from a constructive point of view.

    I learned not to really bother about criticism much online, or in-depth. If you like the game, or like an anime, watch it. We can all have fun trash talking amongst people whom we know (either personally, or well enough online) about anime series or games that we can argue about (but not in more than a general form of fun), but there is a limit to how far it can go when you talk with people you are not sure about even after you "conversed" with them over years on a forum.

  2. Kurogane says:

    I am dropping it because I don't like the seiyuu. And partly because the show quality is terrible.

    If other people are agreeing with me, it doesn't mean they share my opinion or I'm sharing their's exactly 100%. The inherent principle of the internet is to allow freedom of information, which… tends to lead to freedom of expression as well, since humans aren't emotionless robots.

    Admittedly, it is funny that fundamental concept of "freedom of information" has been relegated to the sidelines and many people now use the Internet for freedom of expression instead, therefore the explosion of forums, social networking and other forms of Internet interaction, but what bugs me is that people tend to think that "expressions = information" even when there is a clear distinction by the person saying it out.

    Anyways, that brings me to my point… I will not say I am qualified to judge anything, but I believe I am free to express my opinions about the show, no matter if I haven't watched it or dropped it after n episodes. If people cannot differentiate that it is purely a subjective opinion and take as an objective statement, I can't stop them.

  3. DKellis says:

    Kuro: To be honest, despite what Zaitcev apparently says (after I checked my site stats referrals), I did not specifically have your post in mind when I wrote this one, but mostly several more transient forum posts on the obligatory anime section of a gaming forum. However, now that I've caught up with your blog, that post would indeed have been the sort of thing that would trigger this rant.

    My point was not that people are not allowed to make opinion calls period: my point was that I wasn't sure if people were allowed to make opinion calls in the first place, without being fully aware of the entire situation. The commentary after I named Kampfer as my favourite last season gave me the impression that I was not allowed to express these opinions thus uninformed, but posts like yours passing without questioning comments gives me the impression that I would be allowed.

    I suspect, based on gut feelings, a sort of double standard where opinions that go against the "common grain" (a positive reaction to a show often negatively-portrayed, or a negative reaction to a show often positively-portrayed: see my Kampfer posts and my Evangelion posts) are less "free" to be expressed. However, since this is only based on gut feelings and not actual evidence, I can't exactly go around saying any of this without lots of disclaimers.

    None of my questions are rhetorical. I do appreciate well-thought-out answers to any of them, although since asking is easier than answering, I don't actually expect any.

    On a tangent, I believe that with the text-based nature of the Internet, it helps to have some sort of clear indicator on whether a statement is a statement of fact, or of subjective opinion. I would rather lean too far towards the extreme of "catering to fools" than the other extreme of "I know what I mean, so you should know what I mean".

  4. Kurogane says:

    Well, that is one thing. It is definitely hard to go against the common grain, but it doesn't mean one can't do so. In the end, the only one that can make a decision is oneself, whether to like a show or not. Whether if you express that decision or not in a public way or otherwise is also another decision to make.

    To bring back to the point of your post, sure there will always be people who like to take opinions as a marker of truth, but that is pretty much the same as judging a book by its cover. Even worse are probably people who follow the same opinions without even so much as looking at the book in question.

    Then again, there is no absolute right or wrong in the world. One has to make a stand for themselves and forge their own reality and identity through their own decisions and choices. Omamori Himari might be a shitty anime for me, but there might be some people who appreciate it. The difference is the sense of aesthetics.

    In the end, what is important is to agree to disagree. It's a lesson very well learned and should be practiced more on the Internet. There will never be two humans that have exactly the same opinion and feelings in the world, it's a fact best learned as soon as possible before one finally ventures out to the real world.

  5. moritheil says:

    I find that people will nod their heads in agreement up until you post a critical review of their favourite show, after which no matter how cogent your points will be, they will wage eternal war upon your comment section.