Empty your mind, or why do reviews suck.

Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.

Back in the days when I still interacted and argued with the cesspit that is known as the anime community, I would often criticize and bash the reviews found on sites such as Myanimelist or anidb, mainly because they didn’t meet the necessary standards that a review should have. I didn’t really care about the reviews themselves, I was more annoyed at the extreme lack of critical thinking found in these reviews and the mere fact that that they were and still are mostly done from a subjective, emotional ground. Even though it is review 101 that when one does a review they should try to be as objective as possible just like with all other forms of analyzations, but naturally my words fell on deaf ears as usual, as the average plebeian reviewer on these sites couldn’t care less what I had to say about their reviews (Because most of them did it only for attention whoring) . Anyway most of these ‘reviewers’ criticized me back by saying that since I haven’t made any reviews, I have no right to criticize them.

mal reviews

(Picture related is what the usual reviews on MAL look like.)

Naturally that was an entirely fallacious argument to deflect criticism from their own work. If their words were actually true, then you could trash the entire critic industry as it is, because most of them aren’t creators of the subject that they are criticizing. Nor do they actually need to be creators in order to criticize something that was created. Even a completely untrained eye can tell if a building was built badly or aesthetically unpleasing for example. Criticizing and evaluating the words of others is even easier due to the fact that it is based on logic and thinking, and since all humans in general possess these abilities to some degree and another, they by necessity have the means to criticize a review, which is something based on logic and thinking. Of course I told them all this, but they didn’t care as usual, they clung to their fallacies like the plebs they were. Of course I had personal reasons for why I didn’t make reviews at the time and why I am still not making any now. It was because I always thought that there was sincerely no point in making a review due to the fact that hundreds of reviews on the subject have been done already, thus even if I were to make a review my words would just be repetition of something that was already said and I have little reason or need to produce more of the same thing.

But as time passed, a certain animosity towards reviews grew within me, I no longer didn’t just make reviews, I also hated them and what they essentially represented. The reason for this not-so sudden hatred of mine came after I delved on the matter of expectations and disappointment and their mutual correlation.

What is this “mutual correlation between expectations and disappointment”? Whenever you hear or read a piece of information on something that you have no prior or first hand experience with, an unconscious opinion is formed within your mind regarding the matter of the information, it doesn’t matter if the information you read/heard is true or false, it infects your brain all the same. If the news piece was striking, shocking or large enough then these unconscious opinions will form into what is known as expectation.

Expectation is something that you think will happen or you think is going to be in a certain way ( a show is going to suck, or this presidential candidate will be bad for the country etc), it is bad because expectations can base themselves on false information just as much as on truth, in this case expectation is no better than prejudice. Why does this matter? Because the moment you attain a first hand experience regarding the subject of the expectation, your experience will inevitably clash with your prior expectation, leading to a completely different outlook on the subject matter than if the seed of expectation had not been planted inside you. For expectations can actually cause you to enjoy something less, or to enjoy something more than you would normally do. This works via “pleasant surprise” in the case of more enjoyment and “disappointment” in the case of less enjoyment. I shall put this into examples to explain my point better.

Let’s take Sword Art Online the anime, due to its mainstream-ness and high popularity, it is an excellent candidate for illustrating several points.

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SAO had two phases of preconceived opinions. The first was when SAO was still relatively new and airing, mainstream anime watchers discovered the show and found it to be amusing/entertaining thus they started telling everyone how “good” SAO was and told more and more people to watch it. In a matter of weeks, a popular opinion was created around the anime, the opinion was that “this show is good, go watch it now!” It’s popularity and hype has only intensified as a result, until it reached all the reaches of the anime fandom, thus we arrived at the people with more critical mindset than the average plebeian. These “more critical” anime watchers were led to believe that SAO was the best thing in the entire year or the entire decade, such was the amount of hype surrounding this show, so naturally they went in expecting something worthy of that hype. And thus comes the disappointment, as what they saw was nothing but utter piece of trash, full of shit writing, convenient plot holes and deus ex machinas, and full of 1 dimensional characters and a shitty, overpowered self insert protagonist.

Naturally these people immediately taken up the role of a ‘critic’ and harshly bashed SAO as a complete shitshow and a trainwreck, engaging the rabid fanbase that has been built around the series. More and more negative reviews and hit pieces came out against the series until the point that season 2 arrived and finished, when it became evident even to the fans that this show sucks. And thus the original fans also started bashing it due to the change in tone that has happened between season 1 and season 2. The ratings on the show quickly fell on all sites and most of the reviews you could find were completely negative and critical of the show.

Thus the previous notion that SAO was something good was eventually changed into SAO is something shit. Everyone moved on with their seasonal anime and stopped caring about it.

As seasons went on, more and more people came around who didn’t watch SAO during its hype, the people who wait for Blu-Rays or the people who were new to anime discovered the massive amounts of negative reviews and infamy that surrounded the series. These people then also picked it up and started watching, but not because they thought it would be something good, but the opposite, they wanted to see just how bad it was. “It can’t be that bad” logic.

And here comes the “Pleasant Surprise” of course Pleasant is only figurative here as SAO cannot be described with those words. But anyway, these new watchers found out that the negative points of SAO were grossly exaggerated and blown out of proportion, sure it wasn’t a good show by any possible accounts, but it wasn’t a complete 0/10 either, what it was instead, was just your average mediocrity ( a mediocrity that got overyhyped by the plebeians as usual). Due to this, the viewers couldn’t really “hate” on SAO as much as the previous watchers due to the fact that they simply expected something far worse, whereas if they had gone into watching it without reading any reviews, they would been undoubtedly more angry about wasting their time with such a show.

So lets examine what just happened in this scenario

  1. A new show starts airing
  2. The show attains popularity with the mainstream audience, which begins raising its hype.
  3. The hype intensifies
  4. An expectation that the show is something “Good” is created among those who read or heard the news about the show.
  5. Those who were infected with the news go on to watch the show with much greater expectations than the previous crowd, they end up getting disappointed because of this.
  6. This inadvertently creates a “hate-base” for the show, the haters start bashing it with reviews, opinion pieces, blogs etc.
  7. Expectations are lowered as a result, the idea that the show is something “Bad” replaces the previous conception of it being “Good”
  8. The newer audience will watch the show with much lower expectation than the previous critical crowd, due to this they are more likely to have a more positive disposition towards the show.
  9. The “Pleasant Surprise” occurs as a result

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With this I have sufficiently illustrated how expectations can influence our enjoyment, and it’s not something unusual either, for anything that has either fame or infamy is bound to plant expectations into its audience in some way or another. This is why one should watch out and be wary for anything that masses praise as something good or bad, if you listen, you might be unnecessarily influenced into one of the two possible directions. And don’t be mistaken, for this is not just something that has to do with the matter of entertainment! The entire media works the exact same way, just think about it, the media feeds you information about things that you most likely have no first hand experience or knowledge, therefore you are influenced as a result. The media can decide what products you will buy, what products you will dislike, what clothes you will wear, what politician you will vote for without you even being aware of this subtle and disgusting manipulation. I been saying for a long time now, just quit following the media all together as its nothing more than a lying propaganda machine, but even that wouldn’t really help, for our entire lives are entrapped within the web of expectations.

Expectations that our parents, society, culture and surroundings have built into us. The ideas we all grew up on, expecting them to be true, only to find out that they are all lies. Expectations like having a nice boyfriend/girlfriend when you grow up, getting the job you dreamed of or you liked, that school is a place of learning and not a complete waste of time, that you will earn a lot of money and can be a successful man, that you can be anything if you just study well, etc.

But I don’t really want to talk about any of that on a “friendly” blog like this, so lets move back to the main topic at hand, reviews. As everything so far was just to explain the matter of expectations and disappointments, something that I wrote an entire article about earlier, but has sadly been lost to the void of the internet, so I was forced to make a short version just now. Understanding how expectations and disappointment works, is key to realizing why reviews are essentially bad.

The entire problem with reviews comes from the meaning or the purpose of their existence. Reviews are a form of recommendation, although a bit more critical than just saying “go watch this” as they provide reasons and explanations as to why one should watch the show from the viewpoint of someone who has already finished it. The purpose of a review is to let its reader decide if he should waste spending either time or money on the show/series etc.  And this is where the whole mess starts as all reviews are aimed at people who haven’t seen the material at hand! Now if you have actually read my above text, then it should already be quite obvious why that is bad. Indeed it is bad because it puts seeds of expectations into the reader of the review, they will either expect something to be bad, good or average based on the review they just read. And since reviews are usually quite long and detailed, it is much more effective than a simple recommendation and thus it has a higher chance of infection.

Reviews set up their readers for either a disappointment or a pleasant surprise.

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That having expectations is never good: Expectations are not only harmful but you do not gain anything from them. Just think about it for a second, can you name a single thing that is actually beneficial to us in expectations?

You cannot. This is because expectations in the entertainment industry do not exist for our benefit, but for the benefit of the subject of expectation, for the show, the book, the manga, the video game etc. This is due to the fact that once you have been infected with an expectation, it won’t leave your mind until you have actually experienced the show, book etc first hand. So it will eventually cause you to watch it, it doesn’t matter if it happens in days, weeks, months or even years, the end result is still the same. And also it doesn’t matter if its bad expectation, it can still cause you to get interested, because as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. From a personal experience: I have watched movies and read books that several years ago I couldn’t have cared less about, but heard people talk of them at the time. These pieces of information even with the passage of time remained inside my mind and eventually caused me to watch/read them with a “Why not?”

People or rather the Media are actually aware of this effect and are consciously using it to manipulate people into watching certain movies and not watching others. Why do they do this? For profit of course, by making pacts with the creators, the various journalist and writers get money  and in exchange the creator gets the publicity and the viewers. This is why one should stay away from any corporate run media, they are entirely profit and business oriented, they couldn’t care less about giving you genuine news and critical articles, they have agendas instead. If you are following any kind of media, you are unconsciously subjecting yourself to propaganda and media influence.

Anyway, media corruption aside, it is quite clear who actually benefits from expectations and reviews. While in comparison, expectations only disadvantage us, they will lessen your potential enjoyment in shows that you would have otherwise enjoyed more due to hype factor. It can ruin entire shows by spoiling them of their plot twists, of course if a show only relies on plot twist then it is nothing more than cheap shock factor, but even in that case it would have been preferable for you to go in with no expectations at all. Reviews do nothing more than build up expectation and hype (or lower them if its negative), both of which have highly negative effect on the reader’s possible enjoyment, but of course there are plenty of people who would still defend reviews, so let me just examine and negate their possible arguments against me.

Argument 1: That reviews while obviously prone to causing expectations to arise, still offer critical points and evaluation, therefore their existence isn’t entirely negative.

Counter Argument: While this is true to a degree, it is negated by the purpose of the review. The purpose of the review as I have already stated is to recommend people to watch/read something, while reviews might have some evaluation and criticism, those come secondary before the main purpose and suffer as a result. What do I mean? Reviews are made for people who haven’t read or watched the work, therefore they can only include minimal amounts of details and plot points about the work, otherwise it would get spoiler heavy, which would go against the purpose of the review as there would be no reason to watch/read it if someone just told you the entire story. Because of this reviews simply cannot go into in-depth analyzation to make them truly valuable as works of criticism. Reviews usually just touch upon the first few episodes or chapters, maybe hint at few of the later plot points and twists, but other than that it doesn’t go much further. There is no reason to actually read a review for an in-depth analysis as that is not its job nor its expertise, instead one should read overviews when wanting that. Overviews unlike reviews, look at the entire thing, the whole picture and judge it as such, offering a lengthy and in-depth explanation to the entirety of the work, they are also aimed at the people who have already read/watched the work in question and have experience with it, so they are not afraid to spoil and explore the themes as well as plot points, which is not something that you can do in a review. Because of the fact that overviews exist there is no reason for one to read a review for critical purposes.

Here is an example of an overview https://swabulous.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/guilty-crown/ as you can see just from the length alone, almost all reviews pale in comparison to an overview, Swabulous Max analyzes the entirety of Guilty Crown, from episode to episode, commenting and writing on anything that is worth mentioning in some way or another.

Argument 2: How am I supposed to find out about new shows if I cannot read reviews?

Counter argument: Just follow the various news sites, they usually announce them weeks or months before start airing in order to arouse publicity.

Argument 3: How am I supposed to find out what series are popular if I cannot read reviews?

Counter argument: Stop caring about whats popular all together, it is irrelevant. The popularity of something never defines its quality or worth. Besides, if something is popular or mainstream, people will talk about it anyway, and thus you cannot avoid hearing about them in some way or another.

Argument 4: If I am not allowed to read/watch reviews, then how will I know that what I watch is something good? What if I happen to watch something bad due to not reading reviews.

Counter Argument: Firstly stop trying to avoid watching bad shows, it ruins the experience of the good ones. Because as wise men had said before me, in order to truly appreciate the good in life, one must also experience the bad. Secondly you shouldn’t watch shows based on what reviewers tell you are “good” and what are “bad” they tend to add their own subjectivity to it as they are just humans, while professional reviewers are outright prone to doing paid propaganda for the creators. No reason to listen or care about either of the two, form your own opinion.

Argument 5: But if I don’t know if the show or work in question is good or bad, then how am I supposed to decide if I should watch it or not?

Counter Argument: Just like how you would decide about buying a book. Look at the cover then read the synopsis at the back, that should be more than enough for you to decide whether it interests you or not. The same for anime, studios release dozens of teaser covers and pictures just before airing as well as giving a general synopsis for the premise of the story. If you cannot decide solely based on those factor, then I’m sorry, but I cannot help you as you would be a lost cause in that scenario.

Argument 6: You are wrong about expectations! Not all expectations are baseless or irrational, expectations can also be based upon facts and the truth! Such as a director who has produced dozens of masterpieces is statistically unlikely to make something bad! Thus it is logical to expect him to make something good!

Counter Argument: While I agree that there is some degree of truth to that argument as one can very well can have logical assumptions about something, they are still prone to failure (Everything can go wrong, and will go wrong). Just like how a director despite producing good works before, can very well flop with his newest one, he is human after all, not something that is perfect, as long as we are human we are prone to making errors. Even the best studios can produce completely shit works and even the worst artist can produce a masterpiece once in his lifetime. Besides logical assumptions are negative even in the case of a success, because you HAVE expected the director to produce something great, therefore you are less surprised and entertained than if you had watched it with no expectations at all.

Argument 7: If I cant read reviews, then how am I supposed to tell if my taste is good?

Okay this might require some explanation to some who are not familiar to the culture and behavior surrounding reviews (especially on sites like MAL). Basically people, too many people in fact, read reviews for the sole purpose of validating their own tastes and opinions. They finish watching/reading something, then proceed to go on the internet and read a review about that work, if the review is positive and praising, then he will feel good about himself for liking it, his taste is validated and his ego is boosted as a result. And if he actually reads a negative review about something he likes, he will just report it and dislike it out of rage.

Counter Argument: VokREtQ

To conclude

Don’t follow the media, don’t follow reviewers, do not participate in hype culture

Do not let yourself be hyped

Do not let expectations arise within you

Watch everything as you would watch a blank paper.

This is the only way to attain maximum possible enjoyment.

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