You want to become better at critiquing anime.

I know this because you’re reading this article.

I also know that doing so is easier said than done especially if you’re just starting out.

But what if I told you that you only need to make a few adjustments to achieve your goal of becoming better at anime critiquing?


A few small steps really can change you.


1. Observe, Don’t Watch


There are watchers, and there are observers.

Watchers casually view anime, thinking nothing more of the characters and scenes in front of them. Observers may even have a notepad by their side to capture the finer details of the content they’re viewing.

Recognizing this difference is important.

Observers observe.

Observers do their research, open up a blank document, have their notes handy, block out the world, and then focus on the anime in front of them.

Observers don’t skip scenes that are boring. Observers don’t break their flow to pull up YouTube or check their Facebook.

Social media can always be checked after your write up is complete or your thoughts are in order.

But you can never duplicate that uninterrupted wave of initial thought and inspiration. In my experience, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Do you observe, or do you watch?

Try observing your next anime. Focus solely on all the information both visually and conceptually on screen to the best of your ability.


2. Change Your Perspective


You still might be intimidated by Ikuhara’s works even if you confine yourself to a chair in front of Revolutionary Girl Utena for a prescribed period of time. In fact, sometimes it can make your fear worse.

Trying to cover the vast array of themes and symbolism can get to the best of us.

The next time this happens, turn to a friend.

I don’t mean literally. While talking about anime with someone may help in some circumstances, you won’t actually be talking.

Instead, picture a friend — preferably someone who is also an anime fan — receiving the beautiful series review you’re about to write. Your only goal is to explain your thoughts to him or her.

Go so far as to write Dear So-and-So at the top of your document (I do, yes you can laugh at me through your computer screen).

Now, instead of writing to no one and everyone all at once, you’re writing to one person.

It’s like composing an email; the information flows naturally and with less pressure.

You’ll edit to smooth out the rough edges, but the information has to come first.

Anything you can do to coax uninhibited ideas out of your mind will make you better at critiquing. A small shift in thinking at the beginning of your writing session may be all it takes.


3. Be Clear


In less than a minute your audience needs to be able to comprehend what you wrote in your write up. I didn’t say “read.” I said “comprehend.”

The unbreakable law of the internet has always been this: don’t make me think.

Your examples, points and words should communicate clearly what lies in, under or behind them.

This is part of giving your audience crystal insight. No tricks. Nothing clever or cute. Never lie. Just straight, uncensored, easy-to-digest thoughts.

Do it any other way and you’ll repel people. Bore readers. Lose subscribers.


4. Stay Disciplined


Don’t fret. You are not the first to struggle with this, and you won’t be the last.

Sometimes the single hardest aspect of critiquing anime is simply putting your rear end down in the chair and … critiquing.

If you could make a small change that would increase the amount of time you critique, you’ll increase your chances of becoming better at.

So why not try the technique that worked for me?

It’s incredibly simple: just set aside certain times each day when all you do is critique anime.

And time yourself. Maybe it’s 10 minutes, maybe it’s 33 minutes, maybe it’s an hour. But during that time, allow yourself to do nothing but critique.

If you end up staring at the blank screen producing nothing, so be it. More likely, boredom will overcome you at some point, and you’ll start to critique something.

Something is better than nothing. And every time your butt is in the chair critiquing, you’ll get better.


5. Take From Other Anime Critics


Alright calm down. I’m not talking about plagiarism here.

I’m talking about studying other successful anime critics, seeing how they approach their media, and incorporating some of their habits into your own style.

Maybe you decide to see if you can provide some solid insight into character designs like Bobduh.

Maybe you want more of an analytical approach like the crew at Wave Motion Cannon

Maybe you even want to do something on Youtube so you take after Digibro’s style.

Maybe you try all of these and none of them work for you. Great!

Just by trying them, you’ve changed. You’ve initiated the process of improvement. You’ve figured out what doesn’t work, thus getting closer to what does.

Anime critiquing may be a solitary act, but the process of becoming better at it doesn’t need to be.


6. Embrace The True Nature Of Story


Way back when, Ugga and Orga would return from their day’s adventure and recount what they saw to their fellow cavemates. They told them what to expect and what to avoid out in the wild.

Danger. Excitement. Food. Everything.

Eventually, Ugga and Orga wanted to extend their reach beyond their own campfire so they could help out the cavepeople on the other cliff and down in the valley.

In essence, they were the first bloggers.

But they didn’t have access to Twitter or YouTube, and lacked the means to back up their stories or answer any questions posed to them.

The only way to effectively communicate what they discovered was to develop a system that covered all the bases, answered all the questions, and accounted for the various counter-arguments other cavepeople might have in regards to their narrative.


What if the sabre-tooth tiger didn’t come after me? What if I climbed that tree and didn’t find a berry? Ugga and Orga needed a way to counteract these questions.

They needed to develop a mind for the others to inhabit.

Over centuries this matured into the storymind—a self-contained model of the human mind at work.

Along the way, some tried to define this model to make it easier for others to communicate.

Aristotle. Joseph Campbell. Syd Field. Christoper Vogler. Blake Snyder. With each generation understanding grew, yet somehow was still incomplete.

Unfortunately, the hundreds and thousands of years between Ugga and Snyder hid the fact that stories were really just a way to communicate the most appropriate way to solve a problem.

Without that reality in mind, any attempt to define story naturally got lost in subjective interpretations of who the characters were and whatever spiritual or transformational journey they appeared to be on.

In an attempt to define the who, what, and how, they forgot the why.The true nature of story, it seemed, would remain buried beneath the oceans of time for all eternity.

When it comes to your anime critique, try your hardest to never lose sight of the true nature of story.


Take One Small Step


You want to become better at anime critiquing, and I’m not asking you to make any bold, sweeping changes to your life in order to get there.

Just do one thing.

Take one step.

Maybe it’s one of the six steps described in this article, or maybe it’s something else. But by taking just one step in the direction of becoming better at anime critiquing, you make yourself ready for step two, and then step three, and so on.

Let me end with a few immortal words from Lao Tzu …

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.

Take that first step.

You’ll be better at anime critiquing tomorrow than you are today.

12 thoughts to “How To Instantly Become More Productive (and Better) At Anime Critiquing

  • weekendotaku

    Prattle’s insight is the savior of anime!

    These are some very good points to consider, though. I don’t know if anyone has followed my reviews from last year close enough to realize that it’s been an iterative process. The very first one took me over a week to write and revise, mostly because I wasn’t doing well with #3. I still don’t know if that review turned out well, but I like to think by the end of the year I had a pretty good handle on things.

    #4 is something I struggled with too, most likely due to the pace. I did get the reviews out on time, but damn if I didn’t feel like I was burning out. Even with as much time as they took, I didn’t want to put something out that I felt was unfinished. I’m a complete amateur at reviewing, but the least I could do was try to express my views in a way that was clear, but detailed at the same time. I still have a lot of trouble writing if I don’t feel particularly inspired. Maybe I’ll try your trick.

    I still wonder if my reviews really open anyone’s eyes. Most likely the opposite since they’re long enough to kill your lunch break. There’s always room for improvement, just a matter of identifying the issues and acting on them. Your tips help though, so thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Prattle

      Thanks Weekend! I’m sure people appreciate your reviews and see them as useful (I know I do). I haven’t gotten around to all of your material so I really can’t speak on your extremely early stuff but I enjoyed that you shared your experience in creating that content.

      Reply
  • Karandi

    Very sound advice. I have to admit, I’m definitely a watcher and not an observer. I talk through things, backtrack if something catched my attention and if I’m bored I’ll hit the pause and flick through three or four websites before returning to the flow. I do take notes though and I generally know if something is good if I get to the end and I haven’t got any notes and no screen shots because apparently I was too engrossed with the story to do any of that, which usually means watching it again but in that instance I don’t mind.

    Reply
    • Prattle

      hanks Karandi and I appreciate your honesty! Depending on the series I sometimes fall inline with being more of a watcher too.

      Reply
    • Prattle

      Thanks Karandi and I appreciate your honesty! Depending on the series I sometimes fall inline with being more of a watcher too.

      Reply
  • All Hail Haruhi

    Some good points here, although I’m cautious about (1), given that the distinction between watcher and observer seems rather arbitrary to me. I think everyone’s viewing habits are inherently transformative, resulting in no clear metric between these two perspectives you bring up. For example you talk about pausing during an episode, but how do we begin to assign negative value to that over, say, watching a 5 hour show over the course of 3 months (i.e. your typical seasonal anime)? What about if you turn away/stop to take notes as an observer is implied to do? Could you not say that the ‘flow’ is broken in these cases?

    Or to approach it differently, how are we to assign positive value to researching before watching something, instead of going in completely blind? Which is the more productive way to watch something? What standard are we defining it by?

    I don’t mean to say that the observer is wrong in this scenario, only that I don’t think the watcher is necessarily taking a worse approach to their understanding of the work either. You’re welcome to disagree of course, but I find that promoting diversity is far more important than trying to define what a ‘better’ level of critique would be like. I find such pursuits always result in the same pitfalls.

    From what I gather though, you’re merely suggesting alternatives, which sits perfectly fine with me. Just thought I would share in case I assume wrong.

    Thanks for the post!

    Reply
    • Prattle

      Thanks Haruhi!

      “What about if you turn away/stop to take notes as an observer is implied to do? Could you not say that the ‘flow’ is broken in these cases?”

      Technically you could, but only in a physical sense. If you’re breaking your gaze on the screen to take notes on your anime, you’re still actively engaged with the material that you’re watching which is what’s important here.

      On the rest of your comment: While there’s nothing wrong with what the watcher does in this case, personally I believe what was outlined as the observer’s habits (taking notes, the level of focus etc) as opposed to not doing those habits (being the watcher in this situation) – is the better approach if the goal is to improve critiquing. However in the context of getting a better understanding of the actual content, I agree with you. One approach isn’t necessarily greater than the other.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Reply
  • D

    Great advice, Prattle!

    I’ve noticed that taking notes while watching helps me with episodic reviews but at the cost of disrupting the flow of the narrative. So for series that I don’t cover episodically, I note down my thoughts after an episode is over. I admit that I’m not as attuned to the visual cues in anime as I probably should be.

    Reply
  • remyfool

    Wonderful post as usual! Yay!

    I’m definitely more of a watcher, but I originally started reviewing with a notepad open to the side so I could write down observations. And then I started doing picture-heavy reviews…

    Reply
    • Prattle

      Your picture heavy reviews are great!

      Reply
  • Takuto's Anime Cafe

    I keep coming back to this post because of how helpful it can be. Thanks for all the great tips, especially that part about not making the reader have to search for what we’re trying to say. I always feel like being too wordy is my greatest fault, but hey, with practice my posts hopefully will become more straightforward. Shareworthy material here!

    Reply
    • Prattle

      I’m happy this piece can still be useful to you 🙂

      Reply

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