who reads anime dvd reviews anymore?

There’s a lot of useless things on this web (this website included), but is there anything more useless than an anime DVD review? Are they the Marina Ismail of web sites?

I was going over ANN’s recent review of Clannad‘s DVD release, and I just kept shaking my head. How does a web site that puts so much effort into merchandising and advertising put so little effort in writing a review? (Oh wait, I think that answers itself.) There’s quite a few issues with it.

1. Anime is a visual medium. Wouldn’t one of the most useful pieces of information be a screenshot or two? How can you review 12 episodes of Clannad and not toss up one screenshot? At least one or two to explain, “The animation takes some shortcuts but is generally of the quality fandom has come to expect from Kyoto Animation.” Sure, my readers and I kinda know what this means, but most anime fans out there reading ANN probably wouldn’t. They also wouldn’t be infected with the K-On! Flu, but that’s another story.

But since I know what that means, I also don’t get it… Kyoto and Bones are the top studios in anime prettiness, and this reviewer gives Clannad a “B+”. Okay, fine. What’s an “A”? Ergo Proxy? I feel like I’m missing two key pieces of info… the first is that is the reviewer reviewing the DVD quality or the animation quality? They are not the same. I notice annoyingly bad de-interlacing on the Gurren Lagann DVDs as well as artifacts due to high compression ratios that have nothing to do with the anime itself. Also, both are measurable… with… wait for it… screenshots!

Second, well, that segues into my second point…

2. No reviewer is without prejudice. That’s just the way humans are, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The value of a review isn’t necessarily the review itself but the review coupled with the reviewer’s leanings. For example, people know I’ll rank anime like Hanaukyo Maid and Hayate the Combat Butler higher than other people while I bury shows like 07 Ghost and D-Gray Man. But I don’t deny that I have preferences in my reviews– I celebrate them going out of my way to point out awesome meido, epic trainwrecks, and delightful emo facial distortions.

Now, I know nothing about Theron Martin. This isn’t Theron’s problem– ANN promotes their authors very poorly. (They really should follow ESPN’s method in promoting their writing talent, but I think ANN is way too concerned about ad revenue above all else.) But searching, I found out that Theron’s favorite anime from 2008 was Flag and gave Fullmetal Alchemist 2009 a solid 2.5 out of 5 with Hanasakeru Seishounen scoring an amazing 3 out of 5. I think that explains things. (No different than how my readers know that I like K-On! and Eden of the East a lot more than Capcom High Tech Feudal Japan Bromance Extravaganza and Megas XLR Combat Basketball.)

But it doesn’t explain something important: based on ANN’s really bad attempt to rip-off thin slicing, it’s obvious that Theron’s watching fansubs or raws, and that has covered Clannad fansubs/raws before. Couldn’t by using that info make a distinction between DVD video quality and actual animation video quality? Or does blasting the DVD video quality hurt potential ad revenue?

Maybe it’s just me, but having seen 720p versions of everything from Gundam 00 to Clannad to Eden of the East, there’s not a lot of shows better animated than Clannad. There’s always a lot of characters on screen (something that takes animation time), there’s always movement and not a lot of static scenes, and the backgrounds all move. Notice the number of people walking in the back or the cars or bikes that zoom along. And the character designs remain consistent (well, they age, but that’s part of the story) which is something I can’t say about Gurren Lagann‘s character designs (pre-time skip) or Minami-ke, which varies like 10 times an episode in Okaeri. But character design itself is not part of animation quality– animation quality is just how well they animate the characters, how well they keep the animation consistent, and how many frames they draw.

3. Most newspapers have editorial departments completely separate from their marketing and sales departments to ensure journalistic integrity. I have my doubts about most anime DVD web sites. Let’s just leave it at that. Though, to alleviate your fears, I am not being paid to change this blog’s name (temporarily) to mio好き. I just did it because it’s Month of Mio. If I decided to do a Month of Mariya, this would have been ackbar好き. (And, if I did accept ads, I wouldn’t accept any anime-related stuff. My goal one day is to have something like “blog好き built by the Home Depot” and “thin slicing the new season brought to you by the new thin crust pizza from Domino’s”.)

4. You shouldn’t knock the anime for not having an English dub, especially if the product is sold as a sub-only product. It’s noteworthy, but it’s not something that I would grade down an anime DVD for, especially since I don’t care about dubs anyway. I like the dub-less DVDs, since they usually come a lot cheaper, and if you’re going to knock it for lacking the dub, give it props for being more affordable (especially in this swine flu-infested economy). This Clannad release is about $40 retail for 12 episodes… a great deal compared to how much the dubbed DVDs would cost. Yet, for whatever reason, cost and value aren’t part of the review. (Also shocked ANN didn’t provide affiliate links to TRSI and Amazon to buy the DVD. Did I just give them an idea… ? Or is my adblock working too well?) Do you think $25 for 4 episodes of Black Lagoon Second Barrage is a better value than the entire Fuko and Kotomi arcs of Clannad for $40? I want to know these things. And that goes to my next point…

5. Since we know Theron has already watched Clannad and After Story (“Tomoya is entirely too nice, making him practically a carbon-copy of Yuichi from Kanon. He does, of course, have his own Big Issue, but that has not become a major plot point yet.”), why not make a comment that episodes 1 through 12 mainly focus on Fuko, the least interesting character who becomes a ghost of a character (both literally and figuratively) in the second batch of 12 episodes and does nothing but try to kidnap Ushio in After Story? If I were writing a DVD review, I would find that relevant. “Hey, the story starts off slow with the worst haremette up to bat first. But the story is still interesting despite this handicap. I give these eps a solid ‘B’ but will be raising to an ‘A-‘ before this season is done. And, oh, if you want to enjoy that ‘A+’ After Story, you better start here.” But that’s just me. What do I know about writing anime reviews? (Obviously, nothing. What ’bout my staaaar?)

(I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Theron and don’t know who this person is, just unfortunately was the author who wrote the review that I’m discussing. I’m pointing out flaws in how ANN and similar sites handle their DVD reviews. Maybe a lot of these things that the author has no control over, like corporate policy not to have screenshots or can’t piss off advertisers. I don’t know. At the very least, the sites should do disclaimers like, “We got review copies of the DVD for free and do have advertising deals with this company.”)

Most anime DVD reviews fall to these same pitfalls. Are anime DVD reviews even relevant today? I’m voting “no.” I remember used to visiting the old Animeondvd.com site, but now I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone there in ages. DVD in itself is a dying medium, and Blu-Ray ain’t gonna replace it. Most people want instant gratification, and DVDs just do not provide that. People also don’t want to wait a year or more between the Japanese airing and the R1 DVD release. I’m pretty sure the people who have read the reviews of Clannad from the anime blogging community vastly topple the number of people who read the reviews from anime DVD sites (even worse disproportion than the amount of Mio vs. Ritsu fanart on gelbooru). That’s just the way things are now.

(Wouldn’t it be a good idea to point out if the DVD uses the TV air source or the R2 DVD source? A lot of anime now undergo “improvements,” but not all R1 DVDs are based on their R2 counterparts. Some still use the TV air material– wouldn’t this information be beneficial for a DVD review? For example, make sense of which DVD version of Gurren Lagann has which version of the hot springs episode.)

One of the fastest growing segments is streaming, and even ANN acknowledges this having teamed with Crunchyroll and others. Hell, even Fullmetal Alchemist 2009 and Corpse Princess are streaming on Hulu. These are the things have already begun to supplant physical media. The fansubbers were right– oh, 9 years ago. Shocking how slow the industry is… they’re making the car makers seem agile.

I almost feel like to be relevant as a DVD review, it’s not the anime that needs reviewing but the disc technicals. This is what a lot of upscale video and audio magazines do– their reviews of DVDs and Blu-Ray don’t focus on the plot or whatnot but the colors, the encoding, the bitrate, etc. Maybe this is where anime DVD reviews need to go. After all, by May 2, 2009, who wants to read a content review of Clannad? All we want now is Mio. But I’m pretty sure by 2011, we won’t be raving about Mio anymore. (Though Decade of Mio doesn’t sound bad either… mmm…)

29 Responses to “who reads anime dvd reviews anymore?”

  1. … Wait, ANN had a DVD-review section? AND they gave After Story a 2-ish score?

    *shakes head in slight disbelief*

  2. All of ANN’s authors watch fansubs for the season previews unless legit streams are available (i.e. Saki, Shangri-la, etc.). They don’t necessarily bother watching anything beyond what they do for it though. Theron does watch fansubs, but not many. He has, for example, seen all of Toradora (and he loved it). I’m pretty sure Theron hasn’t seen any of Clannad beyond what he has reviewed. His review is strictly on the episodes in that set; the one episode he saw of After Story wouldn’t give him any idea of where the story is going.

    Also, these days you can get dubbed sets for about the same price as sub-only sets. Funi now releases most titles as sets and they dub all of them. And they range from $40-$60 for 12-13 episodes. Bandai is slowly leaving singles behind as they move to sets of varying episode counts. Unfortunately, their Hayate release, which is going to be sub-only, is actually a worse deal than Funi’s dubbed sets and many of their own dubbed releases. Hayate will be $40 (MSRP) for only 7 epsiodes and (apparently) only a clean OP for the extra (presumably the second volume will have the first clean ED).

    Singles are pretty much dead at this point, so you need to compare the sub-only sets to dubbed sets. Funi’s sets (which are all dubbed) tend to be more expensive at $60 (MSRP) for most first release sets of 12-13 episodes. But its a lot closer than $40 per set vs. 4 $30 singles.

  3. I get all my anime & manga reviews from blogs and a podcast or two. At least then I know the reviewers in those cases will be starting from a similar baseline to me. I just can’t see a typical ANN reader being someone who would subscribe to a RSS feed of mio好き. In fact I can’t remember the last time I went to the ANN site for a review, I only ever use it as a reference-source-of-last-resort.

  4. Ha, I think you pointed out the worst thing about animve DVD releases towards the end,

    “After all, by May 2, 2009, who wants to read a content review of Clannad?”

    By that time my CLANNAD figures are already have a debauch party with my one piece crew.

    In my head.


  5. I am surprised by the amount of anger suppressed in this post with your visit to ANN. Of course, the mindset of the visitor is a big factor in the diverging opinions of people who argue about the quality of this website. Or the quality of the frequent visitors to ANN creates such quality content…

  6. Hatsukoi Limited

    Rating: 4 (of 5)

    End of Story. >.>

  7. The Decade of Mio will be a golden decade.

  8. Considering ANN seems to have an institutionalized anti-moe basis Clannad scored pretty highly overall. Checking ANN for the editorials is like watching Spice and Wolf for the economics (still no mention of the delicious Horo~n feast that was the season 2 ova?). The site’s good for gathering information; for forming opinions, not so much. But the same is true for reviews about anything from any source, really. Like Twenty Faces said: “Look, liisten, and think for yourself.”


  9. I personally don’t use ANN for anything else then their encyclopedia and
    the Anime News Nina! comic.
    I love that comic.

  10. Other than using ANN as a semi good news collector (if you can get past their poor ass writing) I like the forums… when I want to redirect frustration from work directly onto what has to be the most stupid forum population on the web.

  11. I visit ANN for some of their weekly features, and their reviews are useful to me as far as taking notice of what is new and available in the US anime DVD market, but to write reviews for the site is not a position I greatly envy. Lack of a professional writing skill set is the least of the problems the average ANN writer faces.
    Inheriting an antiquated reviewing structure and probably equally dated site policies, they hardly get many chances to develop their personalities through their writing and often are forced to cover all sorts of genres and subjects they have no business appraising. The review grading system is simple: they’re completely meaningless; just a decoration at the end of every review article (so much so I’d wish they’d just do away with the formality entirely). Every writer clearly has his/her own biases, which Jason pointed out himself is not intrinsically bad for reviewers to have, but stupifying situations occur where some writers who’ve shown much distaste for a particular title or genre style is given exclusive responsibility to handle all the releases of said title, which they quickly take as mandate to condemn and vilify. Things aren’t helped by those who seem to have set out with personal agendas against particular subsets of otaku culture, portions of the same exact fandom they purportedly cater to. Finally, ANN is no longer the single center on the internet where you can find anime-related and Japanese pop-culture news and features, now having to compete with numerous blogs and other news sites which are better targeted, more adaptable, and more enthusiastic.

  12. I was also unpleasantly surprised after reading that review. I mean, true, there are series out there with better art direction (since this is a modern setting, not that imagination is required), but a B+ is seriously undermining it.

    The problem is that its stuck in their heads that MOE series are generally mindless drivel that only pander to otaku. While that’s correct to a certain extent, IMO what Theron didn’t see is that KyoAni is trying (and successfully!) bucking that trend. They should’ve reviewed Clannad as a drama, not a moe-panedering fest.

    And Clannad is damn good drama.

  13. This commentary of Jason has no screenshots nor fanservice of Mio. Irrelevantly boring!!!

    Hahaha. Joke…^^

    DVD reviews?? ANN is not a reliable source of “informative criticism” in terms of anime related product. Although they are useful for instant news and launch information regarding of new anime series, other than that well, they are somewhat useless (in terms of providing useful information).

    Well, if I want anime news then I’ll just wait for the thin slicing of yours Jason but I still remember the time when you fail to include Rozen Maiden…oh well…^^


  14. Needs moar screenshots?

  15. I despise ANN. From the few articles I’ve read, they come across as industry tools, adding their own spin on news stories.

    However, I think DVD reviews are still relevant. Recently, I had a discussion with another member of an anime club I attend. I described how it was counterproductive to show longer series because, if it was good, most members would go home, download and watch the whole thing before the next meeting. I hadn’t considered his side, though, which is a more pragmatic, legal camp. He patiently waits for the next DVD to come out for a series he really enjoys, and relishes the opportunity to go home and watch it. He enjoys having a physical copy of the product, and furthermore, support of the localization industry. Most of the time, he doesn’t even watch fansubs. So, while most of us are waist-deep in the fansub community, he still adheres to the more traditional form of viewing, where undoubtedly these DVD reviews play a major role.

  16. >an anime club I attend
    >anime club

    Good God. Why?!?
    You’re weird.

  17. re: ANN – I realize a lot of the writers were fans who got a job doing this and sometimes they have to review things they don’t really care for. It’s depressing when the wrong person gets the wrong show or movie to review, but I accept that an move on. Funny thing is, I don’t read reviews to shows I haven’t seen yet. How strange is that? For that, I go to blogs . . . several blogs that all have different flavors to help get a good feel for each of them. (I recently was looking into which version of GitS I wanted to get on BR, the original or the 2.0, and all of the reviews had a bit of what the movie is about and why you should see it, but I always skipped right to the ‘what it looks like on BR’ part of the review . . . just makes sense.)

    re: DVD’s – I love my DVD collection. I love seeing how large it is. (That’s what Mio said . . . ) I buy a lot of series that I’ve seen of fansubs because I want to support the industry. But sometimes having to wait a year or so . . . I forgot why I liked it and am less likely to spend money on it by then. If streaming is the way of the future, I wouldn’t mind paying for a simulcast that has a couple of ads if I could DL it at the same time to keep.

  18. Why do you even bother with ANN reviews? Everyone knows they are the source of braincancer…

  19. just waiting for that special Another World: Kyou Arc chapter

  20. I think one of Theron Martin’s problems with grading is that he doesn’t look over what he gave past series. For example, he gave Air TV DVD 1 an A- in animation and Air TV DVD 3 a B+ in animation. Then he gave every DVD volume of Kanon an A- in animation. I think it’s pretty obvious that Kanon was a big step up from Air and Clannad was a step up from Kanon; therefore, Clannad should at least be an A.

    Then again it seems like A- is the highest grade he gives out: 5 CM per second and Seirei no Moribito both only got an A-. As for Ergo Proxy he gave vols 1 & 2 an A- for animation and vols 3 & 5 a B+ for animation. Scratch that, he gave Eureka 7 DVD 6 an A for animation but he gave DVD 7 a B+ for animation and vols 1,2,3 an A- for animation.

    What I find an even worse grade by Theron Martin was his animation grade of B for the second Gurren Lagann Sub DVD and in his review of the third DVD he called the animation “not terribly impressive”.

    Once again though, great post Jason.

  21. Well, I’m not trying to single out ANN. Just they’re the unfortunate last “vintage” site on my RSS reader (having dropped both AoD and Anime Jump).

    I just can’t see a typical ANN reader being someone who would subscribe to a RSS feed of mio好き.

    Their loss. Not my fault if they’re not getting their USDA of Miolicousness.

    This commentary of Jason has no screenshots nor fanservice of Mio. Irrelevantly boring!!!

    Sigh. I can’t win. Damned if I post Mio fanservice, damned if I don’t.

  22. Haha, you can’t win Jason… I liked this article. When they’re reviewing an anime it comes down to a matter of personal taste no matter what so I don’t know why they bother with content. They should do a short summary of the story and then talk about how it’s much higher quality. I don’t go to ANN anyways though so I don’t really have anything to complain about.

  23. I read a couple customer reviews of old Animes on Amazon.com (like pre-2000)… helped me pick between competing versions of the same Anime. Even without screenshots they were helpful, but I get your point.

  24. Don’t worry jason, i used to like going to ANN till i started readin blogs to get to know which anime seems interesting(choosing anime based on bloggers preference is not so good unless you have the same preference) and besides you already gave us the miolicious fanservice posts a couple of times already.

  25. I just had a wicked idea, the likes of which could bring down the *entire internet*. It starts off crazy, but hear me out.

    Jason needs to become an anime DVD viewer.

    No, wait. Don’t turn your head and focus on Mio yet. Stay with me.

    Jason can start by submitting reviews with surprising depth and analysis, combined with background knowledge. Over time, he’ll start peppering reviews with a “Kyonko” here and a “LOL Fang-Tan” there. By the time one year has passed, millions will start drooling over Lulu-chan, united in brokedness.

    Forget “ILuvU” and “Melissa.” The end of the internet could very well start here. What do you say, ladies, gentlemen and gentlemen dressed as ladies?

  26. @ mampf inorite? People who watch anime go outside? And, *gasp*, meet in public? Maye Akira rounding up 20,000 NEETS isn’t so far-fetched after all!!1!

    As logic-bending as it seems, it’s an alright time. I still don’t know what the point of the club is, but hey, if they can have a show based off of a club that watches cooking anime, why not IRL.

  27. ANN’s reviews are only a notch about Newtype USA. I used to subscribe to Newtype for the pictures, but then I realized every ‘review’ was just happy marketing information for something. ANN doesn’t senselessly pander, but it does feel like it has very little relevance to reality.

    BTW ANN’s been doing season previews for a very, very long time now, I don’t think they ripped it off from you Jason :p

  28. A lot of people depend on reviews because they want to know about a particular product from someone with actual experience using it. I’m not saying ANN’s review staff is any good at that, but that can be blamed on an inflexible review coda that needs an overhaul along with a staff that has actual experience in journalism unlike the current system.

    Outside of running my anime blog, I review cellphones and break news for PhoneNews.com as their Interim Editor-in-Chief and I’ve done that for almost three years before starting the anime blog that is a part of the same network last October.

    I plan to review anime DVDs and streaming episodes at some point, but running the blog network takes precedence over running my blog right now. Once I do start reviews, I do plan to review everything I can get my hands on, as I really do not understand the aversion to shows that many people have for silly reasons like K-ON, Toradora and so forth.

    In the end, shows are shows, tropes are tropes, and K-ON will always be a thinly veiled commercial for Fender and AKG, which is a good thing.

  29. Humberto Saabedra said:

    “K-ON will always be a thinly veiled commercial for Fender and AKG, which is a good thing.”

    *Big Grin* But… Yui plays a Gibson Les Paul, not a Fender…
    I think that is a Fender Precision bass that Mio plays.
    mmm.. Yamaha drums.. aha a Japanese company there.
    (Muugi plays a Korg)

    honestly, sorry you have that opinion. For the most part each instrument is the classic epitome of what is often some of the widest used or coveted instruments.

    Most electric guitarists that do not have Les Paul’s pine for them. (some acoustic guitarists pine for them too)
    The Fender Precision is.. Iconic, played by folks like Sting, John Entwhistle, Dusty Hill, John Paul Jones, Sid Viscious and so many more…

    Anyway.. that topic

    I want to see a review, personally, often to see and compare releases. I want technical specs, a review on quality mostly. I used to use animeondvd.com before purchase, despite sometimes not agreeing with them, they did do a good job reviewing the format.

    Now I wish I could find something much like that again.. someone trustworthy. Ugh, I might have to read product reviews on Amazon or something.

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