The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Why anime film reviews cannot be “spoiler-free”: A case study through the K-On! Movie

“It’s about communication. It’s about honesty. It’s about treating people in the organisation as deserving to know the facts. You don’t try to give them half the story. You don’t try to hide the story. You treat them as true equals, and you communicate and you communicate and communicate.” —Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

  • The short version of this post is, if you see a post on a blog about an anime movie you’ve been interested in watching, the movie’s BD/DVDs aren’t out yet, and the post says its spoiler free, don’t click on it if you’re looking to avoid spoilers. Granted, the blogger gets less traffic, but your movie-going experience is rather more important. Bloggers looking to write a review on an anime movie before the BD/DVD release should clearly state that their post will have spoilers and not attempt to misrepresent it.

A glance at the calendar shows that there are numerous anime movies releasing within the next half-year, most notably, the Girls und Panzer movie. These anime films are going to be highly anticipated, but it’s not difficult to spot that discussions on anime movies represent a different sort of challenge for both viewers and reviewers alike. Rather than releasing within a week of the original air date, anime movies only become accessible to overseas audiences via home releases. Barring an opportunity to time a visit to Japan with the release of a movie, viewers typically must wait for the movie’s home release in order to view said movie. As such, English-language discussions for an anime movie are virtually non-existent until the home releases come out.

Consequently, individuals looking to maximise their enjoyment of these movies typically avoid any websites and/or blogs discussing these anime movies. However, in passing years, there have cases where some reviewers purport that it is possible to provide a meaningful discussion without introducing spoilers into their review. These spoilers, defined here to be any piece of information from a part of the media that detracts from the experience, especially with regards to details entailing a narrative’s plot. However, a review aims to evaluate its medium based on how effectively it satisfies what the audience was anticipating, whether it be how well a story is told, how effectively characters contribute to plot progression, whether or not suspense elements are effective, and so on. These discussions are only effective if the reviewer is able to draw upon specific details within a medium to support their evaluations, and more often than not, said details overlap with information that would constitute a spoiler. As such, an effective, useful review that is simultaneously spoiler-free is a contradiction and cannot exist.

A review is intrinsically spoiler-laden by definition and as such, when a review about an anime movie claiming to be “spoiler-free” is written, it would doubtlessly turn heads. Such a review was written at Yaranakya concerning the K-On! Movie, posted nearly a month after it had premièred in Japan. In this review, Cytrus (the author) opens with a disclaimer, stating that it would not “important plot points or describe scenes in detail”, restricting its contents only to “themes and contents in broad terms”. Unfortunately, this review is unsuccessful from the start: Cytrus suggests that the movie faced unknowns during production, as this marked the first time the K-On! franchise was stepping onto the silver screen and is forced to reveal that the whole point of the K-On! Movie was not about London itself, but rather, to present the story behind how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about. Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! acts as the cornerstone for the entire film, and London itself is a secondary aspect that provides a backdrop for Houkago Teatime as they aspired to write a song that captured how they felt about Azusa. In doing so, the film aims to illustrate that “everything is special if the group of individuals one is with is special, regardless of what one is doing”.

The reason for each of the artistic decisions within the film is motivated by this objective, and any review must adequately address this if it is to assess whether or not the K-On! Movie is worth watching. The “spoiler-free” review in question ultimately cannot maintain its no-spoiler policy: in order to analyse the overarching themes within the film, critical plot elements must be mentioned. The end result is a review that does a disservice to the readers. The title misrepresents the review by suggests that its readers will be able to peruse its contents without gaining information on the film that would subsequently diminish the film’s impact. Instead, Cytrus clearly states in its body that Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!, and not London, is the keystone to the K-On! Movie‘s plot.

While K-On! is considered to be an anime where there is intrinsically limited opportunity for spoilers, it nonetheless represents an interesting case study illustrating that even in something as simple as K-On!, it is nigh-impossible to completely eschew spoiler elements. As such, while the review in this discussion reaches a reasonable verdict on the movie, it winds up making use of spoilers and ultimately violates its own no-spoiler policy. Consequently, any readers who were looking for a true “spoiler-free” review will not find one at Yaranakya. Cytrus demonstrates that even the best efforts to avoid spoilers are unsuccessful, because a meaningful review must directly address plot points. Inconsequential this might be for a franchise such as K-On!, there are implications for anime films that are story-driven: conceivably, readers may encounter blogs that might profess to have a “spoiler-free” discussion and wind up learning something that diminishes their own enjoyment of the film later on.

This ties in with the upcoming Girls und Panzer movie; the franchise’s popularity doubtlessly mean that a greater number of people might consider visiting Japan in November 2015 for the film’s premier. This would statistically mean that there could be a greater volume of discussions concerning the movie, with writers publishing talks on their experiences with the film. However, given that spoilers are inevitable in any good discussion, individuals looking to maximise their own enjoyment of the Girls und Panzer movie (and other upcoming anime films in general) should minimise contact with said discussions, whether or not they are marked as spoiler-free or not: discussions tend to be more meaningful when individuals learn of critical plot elements and piece them together for themselves.

  • While it’s unlikely to be the case, there could be a number of casual bloggers out there are willing to sink in a few thousand dollars to fly over to Japan and watch the Girls und Panzer Movie after it airs. After the film’s home release comes out, I will strive to get a review of the film out, and I’ll do two things that a review written after the theatrical première cannot do: I’ll have plenty of screenshots, and a masterful discussion that ties everything together without the need to worry about spoilers.

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