Sunday, March 25, 2012

Subjectivity in Reviews

Well, I did it. The blog broke 1,000 hits last night. I know I also mentioned my 500th hit in my Warcraft III review, but this one has FOUR digits (don't worry, I'm not going to announce my hits every 500 views). I'd like to go ahead and take this chance to thank everyone who reads my blog, both publicly and anonymously. Your support and willingness to read my posts is what makes this worth it. Now, this isn't really a thank you, since I was planning on doing it anyways and me writing an editorial really isn't all that special. Regardless, I feel like it's too great an occasion to not do something for, and I'm back at the grindstone (school) tomorrow, so I wanted to get a "real" post done over Spring Break. (I wrote most of the Seventh Heaven review last weekend.) As the title suggests, this editorial discusses the topic of subjectivity in reviews.

Yet another picture I didn't use in my Mushishi review. I've been unearthing them bit by bit.

     From what I've gathered in my relatively brief time surfing the blogosphere, the general consensus on subjectivity is, more or less, as follows:
     "Nobody can be totally objective. Therefore, we should focus on communicating our opinions, because that's what people want anyways. After all, if people didn't want our opinions on things, why would they bother reading our stuff in the first place?"
     Feel free to challenge or correct this summary, but that seems to sum up people's views on the matter pretty well. I can certainly understand why people say this. The mere act of writing a review already stops it from being totally objective. What one decides to include and exclude from a review is, by definition, a subjective act. Aside from this, we all have different ways of interpreting things, so what's good to one person may be bad to another. None of us have the ability to totally remove our opinions and external conditions from our reviews, so there is no way to be totally objective. And finally, there is also the fact that people read reviews because they want to see other's opinions. Even if they don't agree with the opinions, they'll probably have at least some passing interest in just why the reviewer thought that.

Nobody's gonna make this face if you're subjective. Really. Don't worry about it.
     I understand all of this, and I can see the logic behind it. However, I don't really agree with it. My beliefs can be summed up by something my English professor once said: "Nobody can be totally objective. But we can get pretty darn close." I believe that "true" objectivity is unattainable, but near objectivity can be achieved. We can never look at a single aspect of a show in a truly neutral light, but we can force ourselves to get close. For example, just by forcing ourselves to think about what is good (or bad) about something, to think about both sides of it, we lessen our biases greatly. No, our opinions don't necessarily change because of this, nor does the mere act of looking at both sides make us objective. What this does is it changes our mindsets. Making us fully realize that there may be good or bad sides to something and exploring them can change not our views of things, but the way we view those things. I realize this probably doesn't hold true for everybody, but you would be surprised at how much impact forcing our brains to realize something can hold. Looking at both sides of something is hardly the extent of things we can do to increase objectivity, of course, but I merely wanted to provide an example. Though this is a little more vague than I like my supporting points to be, the main point I wanted to make here is that it's possible to be mostly objective, even if you have to force yourself to do it.

No, writing objectively not as hard as writing in a foreign language. I know it seems like it, but it's not.
     So, regardless of whether or not we can be objective, why would we want to be? After all, we've established that people want to see other's opinions, so what good is a review that is (mostly) devoid of those? Well, in addition to wanting to see other's opinions, people also want to get information. A more avid blog reader (maybe a regular), especially those who have already seen a show/played a game, will want to know your opinions. But people (especially those who haven't already seen the show) also want to get some information. This is why I look at game reviews before I buy a game. I'm less interested in the reviewer's opinions and why they liked or disliked something than I am in whether or not the game is good or bad. I want to know whether or not the game is worth my time, not whether or not it's worth their time ('cause it's all about me). Granted, I feel like this more when I go to a bigger site like, say, IGN, than I do when I go to a blog. But that underlying principle still remains. I want to know about the good stuff and the bad stuff, so I can decide if I think the game is something I should buy. In short, I want information.

That's me, if Fried Noodles were information and I turned into Ran Kotobuki
     I don't believe that subjective or objective reviews are better or worse than each other. Objective reviews generally mean a little more to more people, while subjective reviews are usually more fun and provide a better way of communicating feelings (take Yi's review of Aria, for instance. It's not objective, but it communicates the "feel" of the anime in a way that objective reviews could never do - with personal experiences and how the show affected the reviewer). They both have their ups and downs. I personally prefer to write objective reviews myself, because I want my blog to be as useful to as many people as possible, and also to exercise my ability to look at a show critically. But I do believe that objectivity in reviews is possible, because even if we can't be 100% objective, we can be 90%, and that's close enough for me.

What do you think? Are objective reviews just an unachievable myth, or can we get close enough that we can call ourselves objective? Are subjective reviews better than objective ones, or vice versa? And finally, which do you prefer to read and/or to write?


  1. Congratulations on hitting four digits!

    Regarding subjectivity - This is one of the big reasons I like to compare thing X to thing Y. Let's take... my upcoming final impressions of Another, because it's the best example I've got handy.

    I'll admit, I'm biased as hell toward it, but I still try to look at the good and bad. It was good, but I also compare it to Higurashi and say 'Hey, if you liked that, give this a shot.' I know it's not true objectivity - or anything close - but... It feels more useful to me, from the perspective as a guy who doesn't like a lot of reviews because of insert reason here, to be somewhat subjective about what I'm saying and also namedropping similar titles.

    1. Thanks!

      Interestingly enough, comparing titles can say a lot while remaining objective, too. Drawing comparisons and saying titles are similar helps give people a good point of reference that can communicate things that can be said only so well in words. At the same time, though, just saying that two things are similar is (usually) not a super-subjective thing to do.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your opinions!

  2. Congratulations on your milestone. This is just one of the many that's there to come.

    I believe no matter how objective we can be it's always going to be subjective if we are dealing with art. But does it mean that being objective is impossible? I don't think so. We can be objective in our own ways like if we're going to standardize our criteria--animation, soundtrack, production etc...

    And I guess no matter what method we use, the important thing is we get to communicate our ideas well and creatively to our readers.

    1. Thanks, I certainly hope so!

      "We can be objective in our own ways like if we're going to standardize our criteria--animation, soundtrack, production etc..." -- That's true. I hadn't thought of that particular avenue when I said there were other things that could be done to increase objectivity. Standardization invariably leads to definitions of "normal," and having a reference like that is incredibly useful for being objective.

      "And I guess no matter what method we use, the important thing is we get to communicate our ideas well and creatively to our readers." -- Well said, I totally agree. Neither method is better than the other (at least, I think so), so I think we should all use whichever one works best for getting our thoughts out there and we like better.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Congrats on the 1000 views :)

    Well, I do get your point about objectivity. Yet tastes influence a lot the judgement of a product even if we try to refer to places that are common criteria like character design quality. Things might be lighted from a unique perspective or facts might be forgotten/hidden. The problem is that there's no single good or bad label - your trash my gold, as they say.

    So in the end, you read 2-3 reviews and try to get the best out of them :)

    1. Thanks!

      Very true. We can be close, but never quite all the way there because of who we are. And it's also true that tastes can transcend criteria. A poor show that gives someone everything they want is still a show they'll enjoy.

      That's a very smart tactic, I do it all the time. Plus, even if they are very objective, that method is also most likely to give you a better idea of what you're getting into. Some people skip over things other pay great attention to.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  4. There's little to no objectivity anywhere, and especially with anime blogs because most bloggers are woefully ignorant of the discipline of aesthetics. Moreover they take their own impressions for granted, and never bother to analyze WHY they have such dispositions. That explains why many blogs sound alike despite the blogger's claims to pure subjectivity especially when they are from the same vulture, with the same Unexamined value system And so forth.

    A cursory understanding of aesthetics will wean off ones own selfish and short sighted tastes, and expand their vision beyond premature or underdeveloped judgment. But that's expecting too much from the average blogger in love with his biases or tastes.

    Congrats on your success regardless!

    1. Hmmm. As far as aesthetics goes, I feel like many of ani-bloggers I know are pretty well-versed. Perhaps they don't always use it, but I've seen some wonderful posts that take a small section of an anime scene or episode and explain it very thoroughly, like Snippettee (to take a random example) often does. Then again, there's also a very good possibility that I'm merely talking about the minority in the blogosphere. After all, I'm still quite new at this. :)

      Regardless of how MANY bloggers are ignorant of aesthetics, though, you definitely bring up a good point with it being a way to increase objectivity. Something I agree with you on even more, though, is that more people should analyze things more closely. I feel like a number of the people I've met (in both the physical and virtual worlds) are just basing things off their "gut reactions" and not, as you say, figuring out WHY they have those impressions. Understanding the way one views things is extremely helpful in being objective, because one can then try to compensate for them or try to work around them.

      So, I don't know. I can't define the "average blogger" because I haven't been around the blogosphere enough. I certainly like to think I know some people who take a look at aesthetics (from time to time, if not commonly), but once again I don't know if they're the majority or the minority (the latter seems more likely, but...). I guess the variety of different types of bloggers are what makes it fun. If everyone paid attention to aesthetics and was super insightful, then we'd run out of things to say, right? :)

      Anyway, thanks for dropping by and commenting! I really like your discussion!