Something I learned while watching Hellsing Ultimate
I’ve often wondered, in the process of reading stuff other people write about anime, who decides what is good and what is not. What makes an anime good and what makes it bad? Reviewers often talk about these things as if they were self-evident but never give any evidence as to why or what criteria they base this analysis on. We must remember, after all, that the original shark-jumper, Happy Days, was only judged to have jumped the shark many years after the actual event took place, and that Happy Days persisted for quite awhile after Fonzie took his infamous water-skiing trip. As a result, I had to figure out a lot of how to go about blogging this stuff myself, and the only conclusion I could come up with was that there was no such thing as good or bad anime, at least not in the sense that the words are usually used.
When we think of good or bad anime, we think of ones that we enjoy or don’t. To pull some relevant words of wisdom from Ore no Imouto, some anime are just done in such a way that it is impossible for us to enjoy them (Kuroneko regarding Kirino’s Meruru fanfic in case you were wondering). For me, this is the Big Three shonen titles and fanservice-heavy series’. I do not think they are good or bad, in spite of what I might say. I don’t think anything of them at all but their premise leaves me incapable of enjoying them, so I have no interest in finding out if I will like them or not.
When I think of anime as being good or bad, I tend to seek out objective criteria. Objective criteria are those that people can acknowledge regardless of their inherent prejudices. The quality of artwork is an objective criterion. The goodness or badness of a certain art style is not. Thus, whether we like them or not, I don’t think that there can be any doubt that the quality of anime in general has improved over the past two decades with the advent of labor-saving tools that make good production values that much easier to come by. Improvements in sound recording, animation touch-ups and so on have made creating a “good” anime easier than it was in the past, at least to my eyes. People who search obsessively will likely be able to notice QUALITY frames that elude my sight or argue that studios cut corners and then touch things up on the Blu-ray release. I am not an expert on these things.
That doesn’t mean you have to like it. Nor does it mean that you have to hate it. There are plenty of so-called bad or average anime that I can say I enjoyed because they had some sort of charm about them. Dancouga Nova was an unconvincing story with not much detail or exploration into the minutae of the setting it had created, but I still found it to be an entertaining distraction in its own right and it remains one of my favorite units to use in Super Robot Wars. Would I watch it again? Probably not. Likewise, Ghost in the Shell was revolutionary for its time and had art and music that would rival any modern anime but I found its pace and high-school-textbook-philosophy plot to be too unsubtle for my taste. I might try to watch it again and really appreciate it but my experience the first time left me thinking I might have more fun touching a light switch and getting electrocuted. Pain is at least a sensation, of which I felt none when watching Ghost in the Shell.
Why did I go on this long extended ramble? I don’t know, I guess I lost track. It relates to Hellsing Ultimate because it was the first anime I watched after Ore no Imouto (which I actually watched during its run sometime around a year ago) that taught me something about what I like in an anime. Something that I may have known before but could not put into words. Ore no Imouto gave me Kuroneko’s assessment of good and bad as detailed above. Hellsing Ultimate taught me that I like anime which get me interested in something by virtue of that thing being featured. In my free time I dabble in opera and other classical music, especially Wagner’s work because of how dramatic and overblown it is at times. I am thinking specifically of Ride of the Valkyries. No, I haven’t watched Apocalypse Now yet. It’s on my to-do list. OVA 4 introduced me to another German opera that I have become a minor fan of, Der Freischutz, by virtue of hearing it employed to good effect in scenes with Rip van Winkle, one of anime’s more memorable characters. If you haven’t looked it up on Wikipedia by now, a freischutz is a fantastic character concept for roleplaying and it is one I will be using in the future, especially if the next setting I get the opportunity to play is Iron Kingdoms.
Of course, I had to think back on my life and confirm that this was in fact a rule of mine. Senko no Night Raid contributed to my interest in period pieces and war films. Nanoha cemented my interest in the combination of magic and technology to create a more rules-based phenomenon, while Strike Witches helped get me into mecha musume.
Suffice to say, I will add this to my dictum, not as the be-all and end-all of anime I like or dislike but it will be one signal to look out for that an anime might be enjoyable in my eyes.