Lessons learned from professional anime reviewing


Today marks the third week of my professional anime reviewing career. As you might have noticed, I’ve been reviewing Free!, Bakumatsu Rock, and Nobunaga Concerto every Wednesday on Anime News Network.

I hinted earlier that I’d share some lessons learned when I had them, and boy have they hit me like a ton of bricks in the last few weeks. Let’s take a look:

Practice makes perfect

I mentioned in my introduction that I’m not very experienced at reviewing, but I didn’t honestly think that meant I wasn’t any good. I’ve been getting paid to write for the majority of my 20s, and I guess I’ve kind of gotten a big head about it.

But I had to work hard to get my reviewing up to snuff. Did you know I had to rewrite my initial Free! Eternal Summer review THREE TIMES before it was ready to be published? Nobody likes a writer with an ego, so instead of balking I listened carefully to Zac and Jake’s suggestions and I haven’t made the same mistake twice.

It’s hard to learn a new skill in front of a huge new audience that doesn’t know a thing about you and isn’t likely to have any sympathy. That’s professional writing in a nutshell though. I’ve written down all of Zac and Jake’s suggestions in an effort to swim rather than sink.

You can be opinionated AND fair

When you look at the shows I’m watching, perhaps you notice a bit of “one of these things is not like the other.” It was kind of a long story how I ended up with two “manservice “shows and  Nobunaga Concerto, the one show none of the other reviewers wanted to touch.

Nevertheless, I’m really happy to have gotten picked to review anime for ANN, so I gamely picked it up and watched 6 episodes in a day. I don’t like it very much, but I’m working hard to explain exactly what my problems were, as well as give it the points it deserves for things like the power ballad ending song and beautiful backdrops. You might think I’m hate-watching if I give something a D; but that’s boring. Readers can tell when you’re nitpicking. But if you can back up a bad review with clear examples, that makes your opinion more reasonable.

However, Nobunaga Concerto has a small but loyal fanbase, and they made their disagreement very apparent in the comments. Which brings me to the third lesson:

Context is everything

I don’t know much about Nobunaga. Like, at all. I did some Wikipedia reading before starting the show. So to me, it looked like the show was just throwing random plotlines and characters at me with very little notice or development. Fans said I had it all wrong.

Well, I’ve done some research and they’re basically right. Nobunaga and his friends are so extremely well-known among Sengoku Era history buffs as to be personality tropes by now. If you’ve played Sengoku Basara, watched Nobunaga the Fool, etc. you need no introduction.

It’s like saying “I don’t get it, they should explain this better!” every time Gundam Build Fighters parodies the original Gundam material it is based on. The whole point is that they’re throwing in Easter Eggs for the diehard fans.

This is why Zac wanted us to choose our own shows; so we could pick anime we already had the necessary context for reviewing. And that’s very likely what I’ll end up doing in the fall.

Of course I won’t be dropping Nobunaga in the meantime. But I’ve learned that nothing exists in a vacuum—entertainment is dependent on its source material. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear in the reviews that I’m putting up from now on.

Screenshot via Nobunaga Concerto