“The Objectively Subjective Objective” — A Reassessment

o.s.o. 1

Four months ago, I spit out a somewhat heavy topic titled “The Objectively Subjective Objective.” With this piece, I tried to elaborate upon the system with which I judge anime and visual media in general. Claims such as denying that “theories and opinions cannot be objective” and that if everything were subjective there would be no point in critiquing anything fill the page with an almost condescending air of frustration and bullheadedness. That post was unplanned, and writing through it, a large portion of the arguments I made were on the spot, without the sanction of some measure of forethought. In recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the ways in which certain products can be both good and bad, and have found a comfortable acceptance with how nothing is generally concrete—that the things that can be determined as good or bad in art is purely subjective.

It’s taken some number of years, but I’m ready to forgo the “objective” discipline.

On top of criticism specifically, I’m also an avid armchair psychologist, as the inner-workings of people and their mindsets affecting their behavior remain an immensely intriguing prospect to me; almost like working an unsolvable puzzle. One such concept is the development of the human intelligence, which continues to build upon itself all throughout one’s life, should one let it. To expand one’s ideas and to accept all sorts of different perspectives and possibilities leads to a far more fulfilling life in my mind. Alternatively, to say everything simply has one answer—whether good or bad—makes life less enticing, less intriguing from an adventurous standpoint.

o.s.o. 4

I was once someone who wove the words of my brain into charts, lists, and formulas with which I would swear my entire identity to: that a series/topic must meet a certain criteria within a range of different categories in order to remain what I believed to be “good” or “correct.” And yet, the idea behind something being cliché is that it is used too prevalently, such that the effects of its vigor no longer stimulate the artistic mindset. That is something I’ve come to find hypocritical. If it had worked at one point, only to no longer work through repetition, why would I think that adhering to a strict model of quality wouldn’t become, in itself, cliché? A younger me would argue that my expectations were too abstract, too vague to fall within what is cliché, but what is subject to the idea of clichéness at all? I’ve criticized anime series of being cliché by:

  • Following a certain narrative formula.
  • Resorting too strongly to the idea of altruism.
  • The use of deus ex machinas.
  • Using a happy ending for the sake of fan service.
  • Having a character follow the path from sniveling coward to competent hero.
  • Catering to trends.
  • Being too straightforward and expository.

Those listed are only major issues. There have been multiple times when I came across an irritating thing in anime (and otherwise) where I roll my eyes due to its overabundance within the medium. South Park made a joke where a character screams, “SIMPSONS DID IT!” in response to another character’s insistence on devising a plan completely original in idea. Stupid as it may seem, the idea that everything must be completely original only exacerbates what can be considered cliché. Everything can be cliché. It’s just that the most popular representations of ideas, stories, and characters become cliché due to demand.

o.s.o. 3

My aim for this post was to respond to some of the claims I had made in my previous post, yet here I am with six-hundred words’ worth of criticizing myself as a thinker. Yeesh.

Referring to the original “Objectively Subjective Objective,” something I had never acknowledged during so was that, in response to some great comments on the post, I considered turning the title into “Subjectively Objective Objective,” which would make the “point” of that post swing further in the favor of what I was arguing. I made the distinction that “People should think more,” that the idea of an objectiveness in critique should be favored over pure enjoyment. I believe now that “objective” was a misrepresentation of what I wanted to provide to the reader. A better word would be “Substance.”

To this day, I loathe most representations of self-indulgence and escapism within fiction or otherwise, as I feel it provides nothing to anyone other than the one being indulged. A sort of “catharsis” for those who fantasize for a better life and wish to achieve it through the abilities not prioritized by their society. A great example of this is No Game No Life, where the two main characters are shut-in NEETs who, one could assume, weren’t really noticed within their civilization. Once within the fantasy world of games, however, their knowledge of games and strategy allows them to remake themselves into gods (The male lead, anyway). While this fit of fantasy is certainly appealing to those within that situation or for those who enjoy colorful fun, it doesn’t mean much outside of that embodiment of fan service. One can grow attached to the characters and find value within the anime for that purpose, but there are all sorts of counterpoints one can make on that, and this isn’t a review of any sort.

o.s.o. 2

This isn’t to say the series is meaningless, though I’d argue it’s more hollow in its inherent value than something such as Non Non Biyori. “Non Non Biyori? Seriously?” Yes. Despite the fact I was not altogether fond of the series, there is a sense of societal bonding, the value of nature, a subliminal immersion of nostalgia, and a noteworthy tenderness that made it an easy watch, if not a very exciting one. It is the “substance” to a series that makes it well worth recommending and indulging in, things that one can latch onto, things that make it memorable outside of surface-level mechanics.

I remember Toradora! fondly for its phenomenal characterization of Taiga and Ami, for its natural (for anime, I guess) progression of young love through unconditional support. There’s so much depth to Toradora! that I feel many don’t give it credit for, but I’m also blinded by nostalgia and loyalty, so I’m also very biased. I noted in my Early Impressions posts for Violet Evergarden and Koi wa Ameagari no You ni that this mindset can be dubbed the “2deep4u” mindset, which I would fully agree with. It’s slightly elitist, but I’ve never refrained from labeling myself with that term.

o.s.o. 5

So that I don’t get rabid comments arguing for this perspective, “Execution” is another very integral aspect to what can be “deduced” as good or bad. At the same time, I find execution to be a harder concept to define through words than “Substance,” such that execution can—albeit with some extent to substance, as well—mean any numbers of things to millions of people. What some find wholesome, I could find pretentious. What some find pretentious, I could find super pretentious. (I kid.) Most anime fans I speak with despise School Days, though I find that its execution saved it from being an altogether horrible experience. There is little substance to that series, however, as the entire series feels more like trolling of the audience than anything; yet the most important thing attributed to School Days is memorability, though that isn’t a subject I’ll get into here.

Perhaps the most recent example of “Execution vs. Substance” in my case came with Mayoiga, which I thought had a lot of substance, but not a great amount of profitable execution. To this day, I find Mayoiga to be recommendable just for the sake of experimentation; regardless of good or bad, it’s something of a strange anomaly that triggers my “2deep4u” thinking despite how stupidly it presents itself. The psychological mindfuckery involved with the series is fascinating, and has an almost Gothic exterior where one is forced to look upon the fear of facing oneself. And once the fear becomes a gigantic blob of silicone and nipples, the audience can’t stop laughing enough to remember why they cared to pay attention. Context is a pretty great tool.

isshuukan friends 4

One more example outside of the anime medium (kind of) is Doki Doki Literature Club. I played the game fairly early on in my career at KeenGamer, and while I found the visual novel to be great in its execution of <Spoilers retracted>, in the end, much like with School Days, it leaves a duped feeling of being laughed at by some outside force, as you sit there and ponder what just happened and think, “Okay.” That feeling of “Okay.” is so prominent when I watch escapist anime or harem anime, with the underlying message being, “Okay. Why do I care?”

People may ask me why I rate so few anime higher than a 5 or a 6, and the best answer I can give at this point in my life is “There’s nothing to ’em,” nothing there in which I can empathize with or immerse myself in or think about. Because I prioritize thinking, anime that one can “turn your brain off to” don’t appeal to me. The difference between now and then, however, is that I don’t consider those without substance “shit” or “garbage” anymore. They’re just “Anime without substance” to me.

And… that’s it. I think that was the only thing I wanted to clarify (much, it seems) further in response to my previous post. Hopefully this makes my expectations with visual media more clear than it did in the last post, and shows that I’m capable of change, as well. As stated previously, it’s taken a long time for me to develop mentally, and I’m still doing so even within the process of thinking out this massive piece of ego-inflating revision. If you’ve gotten this far without throwing up, I appreciate your attention and I hope you have a wonderful current time of day.

3 thoughts on ““The Objectively Subjective Objective” — A Reassessment

  1. So I had to go to the post you were talking about to kind of get what was going on (and then I read the comments, and very interesting indeed!) and I feel a bit lost, like maybe I missed something because I find that I review how you mentioned. I also tend to rate things around 5-7/10 because the series or movie or book needs to be *really good* for me to rate it higher. And a 7 is already me saying it’s good. While I don’t structure my reviews mechanically, going over one story, characters, music, etc., these things are some aspects I consider when rating something. But I also really think that even something I would consider substanceless has value, maybe not to me but for someone else. Everyone relates to something differently and while one person might think that No Game No Life is a ‘turn off your thinking’ type show, maybe it isn’t to someone else. I can’t really say much about it since I didn’t watch it/didn’t really like it, lol. Everyone has different experiences and relate to different things.

    But what I do think makes a show Really Good is when many people can relate to it regardless of interests or age or what have you. And I think that those shows don’t really need to be “thinking” series, it can all just be emotion. Sometimes we don’t have to coherently explain and seperate all technical aspects to get the point across (plus I think good shows will make you forget to analyze). I know I like learning about some of the technical stuff (just off hand, Takuto really knows his music so when he writes reviews he’ll have some great commentary on that) but also that won’t make or break a review for me. I think my favorite reviews have actually been those with emotions and that take the anime (manga or book or whatever) outside of the show. It doesn’t have to be feelings of enjoyment, I just like to really read what so and so person thought of X-show, be it a good review or a bad one.

    Also, I know reviews are important for promotional reasons, like the better reviews something gets, the more likely people will go watch or purchase something, but I feel like I value reviews more for the conversation. While a positive review might get me to watch something, a bad review written in an interesting way will also get me to watch something. I’m more interested in what a show means to the reviewer than just to see if the show had good execution or good characters or a good story (though if a show did have poor execution, characters, or a bad story, chances are I’ll skip on it)

    I know you kind of changed objective to mean looking at substance but I do think that (to a degree) we can view something objectively. For example (because I just read a post relating to this), if someone has watched Garden of Words, most people will agree that the quality of the animation is Amazing (I want to say all but maybe someone out there didn’t like it xD). Like, we can see the animation and acknowledge that it is done very well regardless of what style we prefer. But outside of the technical stuff it gets harder to be objective

    Whoops I just rambled sorry. Interesting posts!

    • No worries, dude. I had to go back and re-read the two posts to get a sense of what I was even trying to do with them.

      “I also tend to rate things around 5-7/10 because the series or movie or book needs to be *really good* for me to rate it higher.”
      These two posts were an attempt to highlight WHY I find the series with which I review to be as good as they are, and with the first post especially I wanted to highlight the aspect of “objective subjectivism,” which was basically code for “Through this evidence I can show that this series is good or bad… AND THAT’S FINAL. Anything else would be wrong.” I could, for example, say Sword Art Online is objectively bad and everyone who thinks it’s good is simply biased in their subjectivity, that they like it for a personal reason and not because it is “objectively” good. This is easier to accept with various extreme examples (though more easily with negative examples such as The Room or Troll 2), but when it comes to finding the quality of middling series that seems to have mixed responses, it’s harder to combat what is—DEFINITIVELY—good or bad. My first post wanted to try my hand at arguing for this definitive placement of quality in ratings, that because I thought a series was bad, it is bad and everyone else is “objectively” wrong. The second post wanted to dispel this notion.

      “But I also really think that even something I would consider substanceless has value, maybe not to me but for someone else.”
      And this is what I tried to convey with the Reassessment post. That I no longer believe that anything without substance is bad. This is exemplified with this line from that post specifically: “The difference between now and then, however, is that I don’t consider those without substance ‘shit’ or ‘garbage’ anymore. They’re just ‘Anime without substance’ to me.”

      “. . .while one person might think that No Game No Life is a ‘turn off your thinking’ type show, maybe it isn’t to someone else.”
      And if said person had valid points to argue for it being not substanceless, I’d be willing to hear it. Though I feel the characters within can provide substance or value to the work if the narrative isn’t necessarily trying to say anything.

      “But what I do think makes a show Really Good is when many people can relate to it regardless of interests or age or what have you. And I think that those shows don’t really need to be ‘thinking’ series, it can all just be emotion.”
      This may be where you and I are the most different upon critiquing. First of all, I don’t believe popularity should equal quality. Sword Art Online for a long while was one of the most popular and highest-rated anime out there. I think the series is bad, so am I wrong for being in the minority? Are people with “unpopular opinions” always wrong? I can understand the “appeal to all people” category, but that can easily muddle with the pieces that could make a series better or worse. Impact is another example of what you may be referring to with that angle, such as Mario 64 being revolutionary for its standard-setting formula on how a 3D platformer should play. In this sense, I’m more keen on the “timeless” approach, where no matter the period, a game should play wonderfully, or an anime should be able to resonate with people. Super Mario Odyssey (2017), I believe, has far better controls than Super Mario 64 (1996). I don’t want to give the impression that I’m arguing that either of us is more right, but in my own cases, the things I’ve presented have held better results than otherwise.

      And secondly, I’m also a thinking man. The thinking and the foundation of WHY I should allow my feelings to flow dictate (usually) when I become absorbed in something, or interested in something. To say “It can all just be emotion” doesn’t work with me because I’m not someone who empathizes with anyone with anything. I need a work of fiction to give me a reason to care, to rip my heart out of my chest itself and give me the tools to make it beat faster and louder. I can’t turn my brain off because that’s where I get the most fulfilling examples of visual media: things that can make my brain happy, thus making my heart happy. Guilty pleasures and such apply, absolutely, but this is generally how it has to be in order to get a rise out of me.

      “Sometimes we don’t have to coherently explain and seperate all technical aspects to get the point across”
      This was also something I argued for in the first post (I think), that I felt the need to rationally explain everything in order to get my point across about a series’ worth. I’m more willing to agree that an appeal to emotions can work well even if the accompanying parts don’t. It’s all a matter of perspective.

      “. . .I just like to really read what so and so person thought of X-show, be it a good review or a bad one.”
      Another something I’ve had to learn throughout the years. I’ve always felt that I was doing these reviews for the sake of others’ time and expenditure, that I was some beacon of correctness that people should follow. There’s a large amount of ego that goes into being a critic and a large part of maintaining that was to instill that your words have worth. I feel I’ve obviously taken that too far in the past and it sometimes shows in my reviews and interactions. I do agree with you, though: it may not be the review, but the reviewer that makes things interesting. I have cases of this with other anibloggers and Youtube personalities I follow.

      “While a positive review might get me to watch something, a bad review written in an interesting way will also get me to watch something.”
      In my first post, I was pretty hard on the “Everything is subjective” argument distilling the art of critiquing by not employing a sense of finality. One person could say something is good, while another bad. Who’s right? Who cares! That line of thinking pissed me off for a long while because it undermined the “point” I viewed my reviews to be providing: a right or wrong choice (generally). Indeed, a bad rating for a film my friend watched recently actually made me watch it for myself! One of those cases where it’s not so much about right or wrong, but interest level and knowing what a series could provide for someone. I’ve found this line of thinking a lot more rewarding, and the Reassessment post was more just explaining my revised style of critique on a deeper level, not arguing for whether it was better or worse.

      “I know you kind of changed objective to mean looking at substance. . .”
      NOOOOOOOOOOO! I HAVE FAILED! THAT WASN’T MY INTENTION AT ALL! I DELETED MY “OBJECTIVE” MINDSET!

      “if someone has watched Garden of Words, most people will agree that the quality of the animation is Amazing. . . Like, we can see the animation and acknowledge that it is done very well regardless of what style we prefer. But outside of the technical stuff it gets harder to be objective”
      Again, the “Popularity does not equal quality” argument is deep within me. What people consider to be technical or not is also pretty subjective, and I think that’s another part of the always varied critiquing mindset. Say we compare the animation of Your Name to Pixar’s Coco. Is Your Name’s animation suddenly “Amazing,” as everyone says it is? Because I think most Western animation is far better in terms of fluidity, but does that make it “better”? Like you said, the conversation is a lot more interesting than trying to assume whether one is right or wrong. And again, not to say you’re right or wrong about these, but I’m providing counterpoints to better explain my own point of view.

      I’ll forgive you for rambling if you forgive me for an even bigger ramble. Hopefully I’ve gotten to the heart of what you feel lost by. If need be, I can provide another 3000-word response to your next question, too. ; ]

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