Journalism teaches you one thing fast; you’ve been saying too much. Stop. Cut the crap. Doesn’t that make for a more exciting read?
Yet, the standard style for an anime review online is overburdened with length. Paragraphs are used to explain what should be put in a sentence; the same thoughts are repeated in different words, or different buzzwords. This blog too used to pride itself on its ‘long sentences’, but that About page needs an update. Anime reviewing needs an update. Doing something for longer, unless you keep up a flow of new ideas, material and engaging stylistic features, naturally makes your prose less powerful.
The same goes for the shows you’re reviewing.
It’s easy to go there. You weren’t satisfied with what featured in the one cour the anime offered. The character development felt weak; the drama stagnated; the themes weren’t fully ‘fleshed-out’; there wan’t enough ‘depth’. All of these can stand alone, if undefined and unevidenced, as very casual, and not critical, viewings of a show; arbitrary phrases bolted-on from having been soaked up from the internet’s constant regurgitation of them, a poor state of affairs that would make Orwell turn in his grave. But what underpins them all? What one thing, if different, would give this show a ray of hope?
That’s it – it should have had another cour. It should have been 24 episodes. More episodes means more anime, which means more time to develop characters and drama and themes. Yes!
It’s hard to tell which ancient tome of misunderstanding gave the school of Anime Criticism this belter of a circle-jerk, but it’s not hard to search the internet for an example of its use. According to popular opinion, any dissatisfying show with one cour can be criticised for not having been two-cour. Did the writers fail to pace the show correctly? Don’t worry; the poor things would manage if only they had twice the amount of time!
From this logic, it follows that a crap painting would be better if it was on a canvas twice its size; a terrible novel can be redeemed by fattening it out; bad cooking is okay if you get seconds. Is it your place to say, when the teacher hands back your essay with a big red ‘F’ slapped on it, that it would have been better if she’d allowed you two thousand words instead of one thousand?
This also means we’re supposed to not care a toss about how a show could be reorganised within its given limits to make a stronger narrative, or how something could be boiled down into a shorter and more succinct form, like a movie. You never hear anyone say we should take away airtime from an anime. As if there’s a shortage.
Why is the short – the minuscule, even – never valued in online criticism? We keep saying ‘less is more’ in fashion, but become gluttons in front of the screen. Then again, ‘less is more’ is as non-intrinsic for anime as the ‘more is more’ two-cour circle-jerk. We should rather say that brevity means power. Precise storytelling, trimmed down to only the most succulent morsels of flesh, is the best thing to take a bite out of.
If we can make something as treasurable as Eve no Jikan in the space of six irregular-length episodes, and something as instantly satisfying as the currently airing three-minute short Ojisan to Marshmallow, the one-cour show you’re about to criticise could be made to be great within its normal airtime. A bad anime does not need more space to be successful, unless you’re advocating that bad artist should get twice as much time to bore us to tears, or that you’re too slow to enjoy something ‘short’ (as if thirteen episodes is ‘short’). Look at Sushi Police. Could they make a better show if it was full length? Sure, maybe. Your guess is as good as mine.
Would extending the length of it immediately make it better? Inarguable.
Note that this lines up with some of Christ’s non-christianity-specific teaching: the Parable of the Ten Minas. A king entrusts a small amount of wealth to someone, and they turn it into double the profit; the king, pleased, puts them in charge of parts of his kingdom, a much larger amount of wealth. The man who burys his wealth rather than making it prosper loses that and more, for he has not been faithful with what he was given. When it comes to business, you use wealth to gain more wealth. That’s it.
The same ideology is prevalent in TV show The Apprentice’s weekly tasks and board-room terrors; candidates are tested to see if they can handle small aspects of business in order to see if they are worth investing big money into. Those who aren’t are fired, a rejection from the business kingdom they pursued as permanent as the rejection of the fearful servant in Christ’s story.
You, the critic, the speaker and swayer of public opinion, are a king of Christ’s parable, the man on the business end of the boardroom. You entrust your time – a resource of wealth for the busy blogger – to anime, and expect to get repaid for your small investment. If you are not rewarded by a show, by a writer, why would you theoretically entrust that show, that writer, to have twice as much of your time? If they can’t impress you with one cour, chances are they’ll bore you to death with two. Just look what happened to Sword Art Online when it tried to reach into a longer narrative instead of properly wrapping up the Aincrad arc.
With anime split between being one and two-cour, it’s a temptation to default to wishful thinking rather than properly assessing a show on its existing merits. Saying a story ought to be stretched out to cover another cour says nothing; you’re presupposing the value of four non-existent hours of entertainment, and the evidence is against you. Say something could be shorter, however, and you’re on to a much more interesting argument. You can say what’s inessential and argue that the focus on something else should be in its place, or, if it’s in incredible overabundance, that the show ought to cut all of it out entirely and have a shorter airtime. If you can liberate yourself from the one/two-cour dichotamy, all the better. Movies exist too.
Any self-help book on creative writing will teach you to cut the fat from your work to make it a lean, mean imagination-provoking machine. Online critics should be encouraging the same for anime.
Life’s too short to miss the short things in life.
Current theme music: Cosmo’s Midnight – Falling Out (feat. Lido)