Criticism is not easy, but it’s not hard, either. Criticism requires reflection, and reflection requires thought; and based upon what you communicate, I can easily see how much thought you put into what you are saying. Let’s look at some examples:
- The writing is good
- The story is great
- The characters are OK
- I love the directing
These are all common reasons that people put forward to help elaborate on why they think a certain way about something. And, let me say with conviction, these reasons suck. They suck. They suck and blow. They’re terrible.
I have just read an entire paragraph of those sentences. Eight sentences, all variations of “X is good”, “X is very good.” A god damn fucking laundry list of “reasons” for why a particular show is commendable. And, obviously, I am not even close to being convinced that the show is even worth the 10 seconds it would take to look it up on the internet.
Aside from the whole repetitive laundry list, all that has been accomplished is a restatement of a vague phrase that ends up being a tiny bit more descriptive but is still sorely lacking in specificity. “I think X is good” can become “X’s Y is good.” Well, naturally. “I think eggs are good” can become “Egg’s taste is good.” You have explained a little more, but saying “the taste of eggs are good” is not much more than saying “I think eggs are good.” I now know you like the taste, but one would assume that you did in the first place. These sort of descriptions of judgments are, well, not enough.
Artistic criticism is very subjective, yes, but that is no reason for being so unspecific. In that above example, one’s opinion on the taste of eggs is very subjective, because it is impossible for anyone else to ever experience the taste of eggs from the perspective of someone else (I hope I do not offend any food critics). One’s thoughts on art, however, can be made more specific. A topic being subjective is no excuse for being vague.
Imagine this: you are in an interrogation, and every time they ask you a question you are tortured. Obviously, if you want to avoid being tortured, you would try to be as descriptive and crystal clear as possible. Likewise, if the reader has to constantly ask questions about what you’re saying, then you are not being very descriptive. “I like the writing in this show” causes me to ask “Why do you like the writing?” If they say, “It makes me like the character” I would say “What about the characters do you like?” The less questions I have to ask, the better; the less guesswork, the better.
One thing to follow is to not stop at value judgments (e.g., “good,” “bad,” “average,” etc.). Instead of trying to explain why a show is “good” or “bad,” go into your value judgments: why do you think it is “good” or why do you think it is bad? Use examples. “I like the dialogue” Well, then quote some of that great dialogue and explain why you like it! Once you say what your opinion is of the show, explain why you hold that opinion.
Here are some examples. These are simple topic sentences, so they do not use evidence to support their claim. The writing is pretty boring as well, but the point to remember is to be specific.
- I think Attack on Titan is good because it features introspection of the characters.
- I think Ultimate Girls is bad because it features sexual coercion.
- I think Haganai is good because Yozora cut her hair.
- I think The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is good because it reminds me of the simpler times while simultaneously illustrating how complicated life can get.
I think some people fall into these traps because they feel that they need to talk about certain aspects of a show that they really don’t care about; for example, someone talking about the soundtrack when they don’t really care about it anyway. When criticizing something, it’s your choice as to what to talk about. You are making value judgements, which require reflection, so you should be talking about what is important to you. Don’t wanna talk about the story? Then don’t talk about it. Don’t care about character designs? Why even bother mentioning it then? It’s your choice.
What you say in your criticisms shows your capacity for reflection – that is, your capacity to think. Becoming better at criticism ultimately improves your ability to think about things. This can come in handy in not just anime, but life in general. Obviously you don’t want to be a dick, but being able to distinguish the good from the bad (by your own reasoning) is an invaluable skill. Self-reflection, the mark of a wise person, is impossible without the ability to reflect. Your ability to judge the works, and indeed the character, of others will ultimately benefit you in the long run as you apply that to yourself. If you can’t even criticize with any skill someone else, how are you going to criticize yourself?