Letters from the Editor: I’m Part of the Problem

According to my admittedly rather fallible memory, few anime in the last few years have frustrated me as much as Girlish Number, but I can’t help but feel that this is a good sense of frustration. I’m not angry because the anime is terrible, or even because I wish the characters were written differently, but because they realistically illustrate things about humanity that absolutely make my blood boil.

Hating the Anime

In episode 4 of Girlish Number, we discover that the anime they are creating in the anime (layers upon layers!) is utter garbage. Just like in real life, it takes only seconds for the Internet to collectively make up its mind about a new production and to spit out its opinions on a multitude of social media platforms. In spite of (or perhaps, rather, due to) the hype of the fans before the anime had aired, and the excitement of the amateur seiyuu (voice actors/actresses) involved, the final delivery fell far below expectations.

I was immediately able to empathize with this fictional situation. Just this past season, I experienced this same feeling with the airing of VisualArt’s/Key’s Rewrite. If you’ve followed our blog for any amount of time, you’re likely aware that there is no end to the praises that Kaze and I heap upon Rewrite, one of the most brilliant visual novels of our time. Speaking for myself, at least, knowing that the animation studio in charge of the adaptation did not have the best reputation for visual novel adaptations and that the story itself is nearly unadaptable only slightly tempered my overblown expectations. So, the anime’s final, awful delivery (currently rated at 6.68/10 on MAL) hit me hard, and I was mad.

As most netizens are wont to do, I turned to the echo chamber of the Internet for consolation. Between Twitter and Kazamatsuri.org*, the two places where I most frequently interact with other Key fans, I conveniently ignored (or bashed) those fans who were enjoying the series and internalized the criticisms of those who agreed with me. I think it’s safe to say that this is what a large number, if not a majority, of Key fans did when Rewrite aired.

As I was relating this personal experience while watching episode four of Girlish Number, I was then hit with a particular shot:

girlish-number-writer-depressedThis is the writer of the original light novel upon which the anime featured in Girlish Number was based. More specifically, this is him after the first episode of this adaptation aired, after viewing the influx of terrible, terrible comments and insults hurled by disappointed fans. And all he wanted was for his modestly successful light novel series to be turned into the medium he adored…

Criticism and Hate

The dilemma where I find myself stuck is when to consider something criticism, and when to consider something hate.

The business manager side of me looks at the practical side of criticism, understanding that if businesses are patronized regardless of the quality of the goods or services they provide, the quality of those goods and services will, without fail, eventually dip. The business is simply being rewarded for doing whatever it wants! In other words, (the abstract concept of) criticism is a natural necessity.

The compassionate side of me, however, currently working full-time in Japan, is reminded of the times when people correct my Japanese. Even though it’s rarely done spitefully, and while the rational part of me understands that it is through these corrections that I must improve, the irrational and emotional side of my still responds with discouragement. “I thought I was improving, but I guess I really ought to just give up, huh…”

Even though the second case isn’t much more than a simple emotional overreaction, it demonstrates that even well-meaning and constructive criticism can have negative, if only temporary, effects. With this in mind, imagine malicious, echo chamber fueled criticism. What sort of disastrous effects might that have?

After processing these thoughts, I couldn’t help but imagine the writing staff of Rewrite, the visual novel and the anime, sitting alone in their dark apartments, much like the author in Girlish Number. While I don’t know the reality of their reactions to Rewrite‘s reception, I do know that they are only human, and humans are susceptible to criticism-driven depression. I can’t stand the thought that my selfish, catharsis-driven public complaints are the cause of another human’s suffering. Of course, then I was reminded yet again of the other side of the coin by episode five of Girlish Number

karasuma-chitose-girlish-number-crying-2…And oh my gosh I want to slap the main heroine, Chitose across the face.

Through this entire series thus far, Chitose, an upstart seiyuu has been ungrateful and downright bratty. She treated her subpar and subsequently standard level work as professional, the anime’s fans as lesser human beings, and did all of this in the spirit of self-righteous pride. Finally, after a special event for fans who ordered anime goods, the Internet pulled together its collective will to give her just desserts by posting nasty comments on a video of her. At last she discovered the pain of being hated. Frankly, that’s what she deserved anyway.

Right?

The Highest Standard

All of these swirling thoughts forced me to consider whether I was being rational or hypocritical. Is it really worth considering the feelings of the author when I’m just a drop in the ocean of consumers? Is it my pride that’s causing me to write this criticism? If I feel guilty about that criticism, is it really okay to just laugh off people who “deserve” it, like Chitose?

If there’s one thing that can said of the actions of Jesus by secular and Christian scholars alike, it’s that he gave massive amounts of grace to all but one kind of person: the person who should (according to Jesus) have known better. The Jewish priests and scholars received the brunt of Jesus’ criticism because they had studied what Jesus was teaching, but just didn’t get it. Even though they had all the time and resources to do so!

If I were to stop at this level and apply this logic, I could probably separate the creators I’ve mentioned into the groups of those who had a direct impact on the object of criticism, and those who didn’t. Those who had a direct impact, implying that they “should have known better,” deserve Chitose levels of criticism, and those who didn’t should be given the grace they deserve. But who am I to draw that line?

Of all people on this planet, Christians are called to the highest standard, even if that means they are hurt in the process. Jesus himself proclaimed that all people should turn the other cheek do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. By the same token, shouldn’t Christians also be the ones heaping enormous mounds of grace upon grace onto those who don’t deserve it?

The business manager inside me screams out, “Just let the economics of life sort people out!” but that hardly seems to be the essence of Christianity. For every Chitose, there is a depressed light novel author, and it’s only by giving grace to both of these people that we can ensure that all people are recipients of the love we ought to give, and the way to do that, Christian or not, is to be gracious in our criticism such that it can never become hate, whether it’s in something as large as an argument with a close friend or small as an idle complaint on Twitter.


*I should note here that Kazamatsuri.org has some of the nicest people I’ve met on the Internet, and many of them actually inspired this article thanks to their positive and thoughtful attitudes. Rarely within the standard of anonymity that the Internet has created have I stumbled across people who genuinely care about the feelings of the original writers of the works they care about.

 

15 thoughts on “Letters from the Editor: I’m Part of the Problem

  1. Here’s the comment you’ve been looking forward too ;-P

    Continuing on a more serious note; The things you said about ‘criticism’ and ‘deserved judgment’ are things I’m having a hard time with. It’s my behaviour to give my opinion bluntly. Sometimes this is a good thing; sometimes it isn’t.

    Another point:I don’t like inequality. Usually I react with enforcing my ‘own judgement’. Which is usually something like saying that it’s wrong, or sometimes even between the lines of: “Eye to eye, teeth to teeth”

    While some people praise me for ‘fighting’ against unjustification; others (usually the victims) don’t quite agree. In the end it’s me getting all the problems; because I interfered with something I would’ve been better of not to.

    I personally do think it’s not fully correct of me to do this; but the other side of me is like: “If I don’t stand up against this inequality no one will”.

    I went a little bit off-topic there, but what I’m actually trying to say is the following: I agree with most of the things you wrote in this article. Yes, sometimes you just wanna smack people in the face because they ‘deserve’ it… But if not for the amazing grace Jesus showed to us, our sins would’ve never been forgiven.

    If so shouldn’t we try to follow the footsteps of Jesus and try to forgive others for their faults;or leave the judgement to God?

    On the other hand; we can’t just pretend nothing wrong happens in this world and ignore it…

    What do you think of this and do you think we as Christians should try to keep a certain kind of ‘balance’ between those two ends?

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    1. This is exactly the dilemma that I wanted to discuss. To bring up the example of Jesus again, while Jesus flipped tables in the temple, he also healed the ear of the Roman soldier that arrested him. The early Church persisted in spite of tribulation, it didn’t perpetuate the cycle of violence. At the same time, Paul, and other early ministers and missionaries, sometimes didn’t mince words. What exactly SHOULD the Christian do?

      If it were a simple answer, I think we would have it already. For me, the answer is the err on the side of grace, because it’s far too easy to get caught up in my own selfish opinions.

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  2. > The Jewish priests and scholars received the brunt of Jesus’ criticism because they had studied what Jesus was teaching, but just didn’t get it. Even though they had all the time and resources to do so!

    I uh…have trouble with this characterization. But I guess you are just being kind and not critical of the religious leaders of the time!!

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    1. I hit that Post Comment button too quickly. Just also want to say that the Christian way in this is very simple. We are called to serve people, not Rewrite or Clannad, as in, those items are relevant because of how they related to people–not just the consumers of media, but obviously also the creators and everyone up and down the value chain. If your criticism is motivated by self-gratification and not to help others improve and build up each other, then it doesn’t have a place.

      Of course, I am plenty guilty in that as well…

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      1. I remember having a discussion with Emdaisy about whether or not Subaru (the Main Character of RE Zero) was doing things just for himself or that he did it for the sake of others.

        Long story short: we came to the conclusion that near everything you do for others; is secretly also affected by your own selfishness… (This wasn’t all regarding criticism, but it was about the same kind of topic)

        And indeed; you’re guilty in that; me too; in the end every human is… Except from Jesus.

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        1. You phrase a logical fallacy, but the jist is good. Doing good in general is good for everyone, including the good doer, at least in the Christian paradigm. I would go as far as to say what Jesus did was good for him in this same way, secret or not. The fallacy you make is implying there’s some kind of equalness in people and our motivation in doing all kinds of things–it just isn’t that simple.

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    2. I’ll admit that was an oversimplification (I didn’t want to get into THAT can of worms in the article), but I’d hardly say I wasn’t being critical of the religious leaders of the time. According to my understanding and beliefs, they SHOULD have understood what Jesus was saying, but they didn’t. They chose not to.

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  3. I think the best way to show balance in criticism and grace is to give both, mentioning the good points of a show as well as the parts that could be better. Every show worth criticizing has its good points, because it means there’s something we see in it that is of value and worth improving on. Moreover, I think highlighting the good parts of a creative work is every bit as important, if not more, as pointing out its flaws, since that shows the creator what aspects of the work are working for consumers and can be refined and developed further in the future.

    Moreover, I’m personally a fan of the “sandwich” method: start and end every criticism with positive words, leaving negative stuff in the middle. Starting a criticism too negative can turn off people early on, and ending with the negative stuff leaves it more prominent in people’s minds as it’s the last thing they’ve read, even if the criticism itself is otherwise more positive. The sandwich method can help reduce the personal sting of criticism while still making sure people know what needs to be improved on.

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    1. Sounds like you have some HR experience, haha!

      As far as personal interactions are concerned, I totally understand and agree with this. The sting is a lot more potent when someone is saying something to you directly. I can’t help but think that using that might be a little bit awkward in indirect mediums where it is less expected, but at the same time, just because it’s unusual doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. In fact, if more people followed your example by being relatively “unusual,” this problem wouldn’t exist at all, would it?

      Thanks for your input! Your positivity always brightens my day 🙂

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  4. After reading your article, the question that comes to my mind is this:

    What business does the Christian have in passionately and publicly judging and rebuking people on matters that do not relate or bear upon the gospels and the church?

    This question, I promise you, is not meant as a criticism of the author. It is a question that I ask myself and, foremost, for my own edification.

    An easy answer is that the Christian can deal with worldly things in this situation because that is what they get paid to do.

    But if they don’t make a living do so?

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    1. I apologize if I am misinterpreting your comment, but I believe the point I was attempting to make in this article is that Christians more or less don’t have any business making those judgments. However, just like everyone else, Christians are still human beings, and human beings naturally judge each other, so it’s not something that is easy to escape. We simply need to be aware of what we are doing so that we can be sure that our actions are not selfish.

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  5. I’ve been thinking an awful lot lately about criticism, and justified anger vs. completely unjustified level of vitriol. Possibly the reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of the 2016 election. And I can say this:

    People do get hurt over honest criticism, and there’s no way we can avoid criticizing others without being intellectually dishonest. People can get so hurt that they’re catatonic in their room for days, especially if they actually worked very hard on the project. (I can’t imagine how the creator of the latest Star Ocean felt after he heard the response to that game, when it’s so clear that he loved it…: /) It sounds mystifying, but you can in fact work your butt off on something and still fail.

    With all that said, if you go above and beyond constructive criticism and rat on something for the sake of ratting on something, as if it represented a moral failure on the part of the developers…That’s way beyond the pale. It’s like the difference between expressing that you disagree with the anti-Trump protesters outside and insulting them personally, calling them coddled or special snowflakes. (Two insults I have heard directed at the college-age protesters.) There’s something inherently wrong and un-Christlike about that irrational line of thinking, in my opinion. Particularly about someone’s work.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Luminas! I began writing this article before election day, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t drawn some of the same conclusions by the time it was posted. Interesting timing to say the least.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. We can’t entirely escape criticism, as it’s not inherently bad and a natural part of human interaction. But if we take it too far, that is clearly beyond the bounds of what a Christian, or a “little Jesus,” as the word “Christian” implies, would do.

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  6. Oh ho, I found this post just now! Yep yep yep, this is who I am, and maybe who we all are. I need these continual reminders, should my own pride becomes everything to me, and loving others become nothing.

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