Critique ≠ Being Critical – A General Discussion on Reviews & Analytical Works

Hold Up, Something’s Not Right!

You are probably thinking that I’m off my rocker here, “Jon how can a critique not be critical?” and that’s a totally fair question. When I say this I am not saying that a critique of something can’t criticize something, but instead mean that a critique does not always have to be negative. There’s a general misconception that these two things must always come hand-in-hand but do they really? I’d argue, this doesn’t always have to be the case.

I suppose a good place to start is with the exact definition of, “critique” so we are all on the same page. According to dictionary.comcritique means:

  1. an article or essay criticizing a literary or other work; detailed evaluation; review.
  2. criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.
  3. the art or practice of criticism.

So then, what exactly is criticism? According to the same source, that is just passing judgement on something. Note that so far we haven’t mentioned anything relating to positive or negative opinions at all.

The other day I was thinking really hard about Anime YouTube videos that I had watched recently from claimed, “analytical” channels. I then noticed a trend that while they all had several positive videos, overwhelmingly, they were most well known for negative pieces.

Image result for sword art onlineAn obvious example of this is the infamous Digibro. I’m not here to debate what he brings to the table or not, but looking at his stats (and he being one of the more vocal/transparent person about some of these things is primarily why I’m using him as an example) it is clear that people are drawn more towards his negative content. His fans often state that they want to see more analysis like his popular series such as, “The Asterisk Wars Sucks” and his Sword Art Online videos.

From this observation alone it would seem like people always expect to see these critical pieces as negative representations that spark controversy. Strictly from a views and engagement perspective this is the right move and may be what has contributed to this idea that I’m arguing against here that all critique must focus on negative criticism. After all, there is a ton of scientific evidence to support that things that make you angry are more likely to elicit a response, and thus, garner more engagement from an audience (source for easy comprehension, but be sure to check out the references at the end of the article if you want more detail).

Obviously, or at least it should be, positive analytical works also exist in this same space. Just look at Mother’s Basement and his, “What’s in an OP?” series where he breaks down anime openings. These are almost always positive videos with very little actual, negative criticism. While it is true that his own Sword Art Online (SAO) series gets a fair amount of attention, and in that he is fairly harsh, his entire channel is built more around positivity than anything else.

Image result for takagi sanThis should be enough to prove my point that to critique something doesn’t mean you have to be critical of the work in the classic interpretation of that phrase any way. You can see the same in my own writing. Sometimes I write more thoughtful think pieces like this, satirical works such as my GGO article, and other times I just want to get out my thoughts on why you might enjoy something like with my recent Takagi-san article.

All three examples demonstrate a critique but they vary in how they approach and apply criticism. In this article I’m stating that you don’t always need to be negative when you review or approach a topic. It is totally ok to just be positive towards something occasionally. I’m of the mind that more balanced critiques hold more value, but sometimes that simply isn’t necessary. That means, by my same logic, that these negative pieces have a place as well, they just are often over utilized and get the most attention.

An example of taking a negative opinion but placing a positive spin on things would be the GGO article I wrote. The whole thing is making fun of how a lot of people weren’t reviewing Sword Art Online Alternative:  Gun Gale Online but rather taking that as an opportunity to bash SAO more. I’m very much doing a critique of the community in this sense and even apply some small level of analysis but I attempt to keep the article both fun and imply that my statements therein are mostly a joke. This is probably the best example of taking a negative but portraying a positive that I have on my website.

This second example is the kind of works I would like to see more of. How can you take this negative opinion of yours and put a positive spin on it? While it may not be as lucrative in terms of getting those precious views, you may just surprise yourself because creating content in this manner is difficult. In fact, I’d argue that over time you’d come out a far superior content creator with something unique to bring to the table (so ultimately it’d payoff).

My final example from my own work is my mini review of Takagi-san. In that article I just list a few reasons why you might want to check the show out. They are all positive and I don’t mention any of my complaints in with the show in the article at all. Why? I don’t need to. I’m not doing a deep-dive analytical piece here, I am just making a recommendation while providing the bare minimum of criticism:  the show is good.

Normally, this kind of article would be boring because it isn’t balanced at all nor am I pointing out potential flaws that you as a viewer may see in the program. However, this particular article performed fairly well. It’s an example of how sometimes you don’t need to always break down something into fine detail and deliver mind-blowing ideas about a work.

When I started this article I had more thoughts to include but I think I’ve made my point well enough here. Maybe this came off as a bit pretentious even? Regardless, this was an interesting idea at the very least that I hope sparks some interesting conversation. That’s where I turn things over to you. Do you think that you have to be critical, and by that I mean negative, when providing critique?

Hopefully this made some inkling of sense. I’d love to hear your thoughts so please provide them in the comments as usual. My donation button is below if you can spare a few dollars for this starving artist. And, as always, thanks for reading!

19 thoughts on “Critique ≠ Being Critical – A General Discussion on Reviews & Analytical Works

  1. Nice post. This is why I refer to myself as a “reviewer” and not a “critic”, because I can’t flat out rip something apart unless it really is an abomination, in which case I’ll try to be keep the negativity within the scope of reference and not opinion.

    There is a review online from a “reputable” UK anime news site for the recent Elfen Lied Blu-ray release, and the guy they gave it to for review openly admitted in the first line he already hated the show from first viewing. from what i recall (I must confess I couldn’t stand to read it all, it was that annoying) his entire piece was a vicious, 3000 word assault on everything he felt was wrong with the show, written with myopic bile and destructive intent.

    What did this tell the reader about the show? Only that the writer hated it, nothing was going to change his mind about it, whilst the tone suggested his opinion was gospel. Less a review, more a mean spirited hatchet job.

    So, whilst reviews are meant to express the personal opinion of the writer, I always feel that the writer needs to remember someone, somewhere will like it more than you and if you can out that point across objectively then you’ve fulfilled your duty to both the product under review and your own integrity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, there is that aspect to review that should be considered. Disregarding why someone may like something is kind of silly. Still, I think it is ok to do a piece where you are purely one way or another so long as it is clear why you did so and if it is in service of the reader; if that makes sense? A hate piece like that definitely sounds like a waste for all parties though.


      1. Any criticism, constructive or otherwise, needs to be justified and contextualised in my opinion.

        I’d much rather read a review that explains why a film didn’t work as opposed to an IMDb type “1 star, worst film ever” or “this film is so dumb” summation that tells us nothing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. while i agree with your general idea against focusing too heavily on the negatives over the positives in a review, i think the conflation of “negative review” with “criticism” is a dangerous idea, so i have a bit of a dispute with the way the topic is framed. i dont think there’s anything wrong with being critical if it’s backed with good reasons, and i also dont think that critical statements imply a negative perspective. for example, i have a tendency to say things like “man, wouldnt it be cooler if this scene had gone this way instead?”, which i would argue is criticism, but i wouldnt call it negative. i think approaching things equally is important (which goes in line with the idea that you shouldnt be solely trying to write the negative reviews for the views), but going to far to “force” the balance also feels equally dishonest

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Marth. I don’t think we actually disagree but that is on me for not communicating this as well as I could have. I didn’t exactly write this up at full capacity (long story but not the point).

      You actually got my point that criticism is not always inherently negative. I actually encourage the example you the example you provide, but again, that may just be a failing on my part if that was misunderstood.

      As with balanced reviews I state that is what people should strive for but also point out that sometimes an extreme (be it positive or negative) is more effective at communicating your core idea. With this I’m not saying force your reviews to be balanced but consider more carefully what you actually want to convey and why you are choosing to frame the topic the way you do.

      Hopefully that makes a bit more sense? Any way, I think we are on the same page and I greatly appreciate your comment. Let me know if I didn’t explain anything well enough here again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. my main gripe was continually seeing the word “criticism” coupled with the concept of negative review. i know it’s pedantic, but the post does start with multiple dictionary definitions. like i said, i dont disagree with actual point of the post, but the first impression is framed in a way that bothers me.

        part of the reason why i can be a bit aggressive on that point is my approach to my own posts. in my mind, criticism is taking a step back and really thinking about what i just watched (or whatever im trying to say). that is separate from enjoyment. i can be fairly critical of something that i still liked, which is why i think forcing a negative connotation on criticism is dangerous.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I open with dictionary definition to strip it of the negative association because it shouldn’t have one. This is a general perception though from my experience and observation. We are both saying the same things.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This is spot on. Too many people seemingly feel obliged to nitpick the tiniest “flaws” or “issues” in something, seemingly just for the sake of appearing “balanced” or whatever, but for me, it can easily come across as a bit petty. This isn’t to say there’s no value in pointing out the flaws of something, of course, but it’s also important to remember that those are subjective. One man’s trash and all that.

    Games journalists often comment that negative reviews are the most fun to write, but this primarily stems from the fact that they just take it as an opportunity to be rude and nasty, both to the creators of the work in question and the people who might enjoy it despite its flaws. As such, ever since I started specialising in Japanese games, I’ve made a conscious effort to focus on the positives — or at least the things I find most interesting. This immediately sets me apart when covering games that either don’t get any attention at all, or which only get ill-informed negativity. I become someone you can rely on for accurate information presented from a perspective of first-hand experience, and my readers appreciate that a great deal.

    These days I don’t derive a lot of satisfaction from negative reviews in general. I find it much more interesting when people try to find the positives, even in something that might at first glance appear to have little value. I’ve played and adored too many sub-50 Metacritic games by now to believe many things are truly beyond redemption!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad this had some value for you too! I’m actually a bit surprised by the amount of response this has gotten since I was sure I didn’t make any sense at all. Everybody has had a slightly different interpretation as well which is interesting.

      I think balance is important but I would agree that finding the things that somebody may like in a thing is way more important that focusing on the things they won’t. It would be wrong to disregard the flaws but not everything needs to be scrutinized at that issue. It also depends on what your goal with the piece is. If you love a thing, then saying why you love it is good enough, you don’t always have to toss in a, “well this could have been better” just for the sake of seeming, “critical.”


  4. I tend to look back over my last month of posts and when I notice I’ve done a lot of negative pieces I go out of my way to find a positive topic to write about or line up an anime review for a show I loved. While I get I sometimes get a little negative on my blog, I genuinely love anime and want to discuss all the great things about it so I hope I find some balance between the posts where I’m complaining about something and the posts where I am sharing what I love so much about anime.
    Contrarily to the point you raised about you-tubers, I certainly get more people jumping on board with posts that are more celebratory in nature about the successes within the medium. There’s a lot of people looking for the good in anime and who want to have fun with it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think that is a good approach. Like I said, striking a balance is really the best approach. You can’t be positive all the time but being overly negative is just as bad. Personally, I prefer being generally positive towards things but even I can get pretty negative on stuff too.

      I didn’t have great data for written reviewers. I suspected this might be the case in our community here but I didn’t want to make that claim since I couldn’t support it. I’m glad to hear that positivity works here though! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I find being critical works best when you can provide an idea of how something could have been done better. Critique is a tool meant to help the creative improve. If all you do is point out what’s bad, without providing ideas or inspiration on how it could be made good, it’s not helping anyone, really. Usually, when I’m being critical, I like to just give some thoughts I’d had as examples of how something could have been done more effectively, or I bring up another work that was going for something similar/identical, and just did it achieved it more successfully. I generally prefer to be positive about things just as an inherent part of my nature. So that second method also acts as a means for me to praise stuff I like. Win-Win, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you got something out of this. I wasn’t sure I actually made any sense when I wrote this yesterday. Any way, I think the striving to improve a work is a good form of critique so long as you keep things positive (which is what you are doing). Thanks for the comment and for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem! I think about it a lot too, honestly. At times I have to take a step back and see if I’m actually contributing anything or just being critical for its own sake. That said, there are times when it slips – particularly if a series sufficiently irritates me so I just forget in my rush to vent my frustrations. I’m only human XD

        Liked by 1 person

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