“我係一個練武之人，遇到不公義嘅事情，我一定要企出來。呢個就係我哋學武嘅初心。” –葉問, 葉問4: 完結篇
Whereas anime of the slice-of-life genre are ostensibly intended to be series that encourage relaxation and warmth for viewers, these series seem frequently find themselves to be at the centre of a disproportionate amount of criticisms. Against slice-of-life anime, it is argued that anime of this genre are “bland”, “mediocre” and represent “wasted potential” – this has been the case since the days of K-On!, and admittedly, such perspectives of an anime cannot be considered to be useful owing to their presentation. A decade earlier, it was “in” to be critical of series like K-On! using pedantic prose and uncommon vocabulary to intimidate readers into accepting their opinion as indisputable fact (i.e. “it sounds smart, therefore the writer must be correct”): this effort was spearheaded by various blogs such as Behind the Nihon’s Sorrow-kun and Anime History’s Kaioshin-sama. In these early days, the vehement words of a vociferous minority came to shape the K-On! franchise unfairly. I’ve long believed that people should be free to enjoy whatever series they choose to, so the persistent belief that one has the “authority” to dictate what others can and cannot watch is ludicrous. Doga Kobo’s adaptation of Koisuru Asteroid became the latest series to fall under the scrutiny of those who felt that the series did not live up to expectations, and perhaps unsurprisingly, those critical of Koisuru Asteroid employed the same techniques in tearing the series down. In particular, MyAnimeList’s “A_Painting” wrote a review (more of a diatribe) in the same manner as the bitter criticisms towards series like K-On! of old. Having previously made sport of those K-On! critics, in this post, I will look at whether or not the new generation of criticism towards Koisuru Asteroid has the same spirited approach as its predecessors and see if the approaches of old have found new life in A_Painting’s review, as well as whether or not the new generation of reviews are of a sufficient calibre to persuade viewers to skip over Koisuru Asteroid as Sorrow-kun and Kaioshin-sama had attempted to do with K-On! ten years previously.
CGDCT anime often receive undeserved flack for being regurgitated tropefests without substance merely appealing to the base emotions of escapist fanatics. I’ve always thought that’s bullshit. There are many shows in the genre that elevate themselves above their contemporaries with palpable if idealized human relationships, relatable themes, great character animation and heartwarming character moments. Simply put, they make for some of the most enjoyable shows around and I deemed those categorically disavowing the worth of the genre as ignorant pricks. But honestly? I think they might have a point this time.
The aim of any review is to provide its reader with an idea of whether or not the work in question is worthwhile for them. As such, a useful review is one that speaks strictly to the quality of a given work and not waste the reader’s time with irrelevant anecdotes. A_Painting’s review opens by disparaging those who dislike the genre and putting them down, before proceeding to assert that those who dislike the genre might be right with Koisuru Asteroid. Out of the gates, A_Painting sounds indecisive, falling upon the opinions of others to validate their own stance. This first paragraph also sets the patronising tone for the remainder of their review through the choice of vocabulary. In general, reviews should be accessible and not demand one have an undergraduate degree in English or a dictionary on hand to understand: an inclination towards a sesquipedalian writing style is usually indicative of those who seek to intimidate rather than convey, and because A_painting mixes more complex vocabulary with a conversational tone, the resulting review ends up sounding very inconsistent in tone and therefore, indecisive, uncertain of its aims. I also remark that it appears that, at least at the time of writing, that complaining about tropes seems to be quite in at the moment, but this is akin to complaining that all burgers consist of the same basic patty and buns at their core.
Many of the plot elements of Koisuru Asteroid are oddly reminiscent of other shows in the genre: be it childhood friends who reunite, the promise they’ve made, the central character duo of the reserved, quiet girl and the outgoing genki girl—it’s all things you have already seen done better a dozen times if you so much as have a passing interest in the daily shenanigans of cute anime girls. It would be easy to argue that these tropes exist for a reason, that they are tried and true ways of telling such a story, but I disagree. It was never this basic construct of tropes that made these shows as enjoyable as they were. What it did was facilitate the actual meat of these stories. And exactly that is where this show is lacking: it merely goes through the ropes of being a CGDCT show, but it never justifies its existence outside of that. To illustrate my point, let me give you a few examples:
A_painting reduces Koisuru Asteroid to being about a fateful reunion for the sake of fulfilling a promise that is superficially done. However, this reduction is a gross underrepresentation of Koisuru Asteroid, which is about the journey of discovery that Ao and Mira take together: their promise brings them together on a path of discovery. While initially motivated by astronomy, Ao and Mira end up learning about and enjoying geology, cartography and meteorology as a result of their shared goals. Thus, while their reason for studying astronomy began with a seemingly-superficial childhood promise, it actually sets them down a path towards appreciating multidisciplinary approaches, in turn helping them within their own discipline. The point of Koisuru Asteroid, its main theme, is about the importance of being multidisciplinary. With this in mind, Koisuru Asteroid is easily more than the sum of its components, the so-called tropes that are common to slice-of-life anime, and the claim that the anime cannot “[justify] its existence” is evidently false.
In Yuru Camp, we have the same central character dynamic, but Rin is accepted as she is: an introvert that needs some alone time once in a while. And, as is indicative of their true friendship, she is given that space, enriching the show with scenes of tranquility and quietude whenever she is alone, contrasting with the energetic and fun get-togethers the characters have throughout the show. Never does Koisuru Asteroid, a show all about girls gazing at stars and the galaxies, capture the same heart-stirring feeling of Rin and Nadeshiko both looking at the same night sky, miles apart but closer than ever. Instead it opts for protagonists seemingly joined at the hip, with nothing of interest to offer other than what their two lines of characterization allow them to.
The premise of Yuru Camp△ lay with Rin opening up over time to Nadeshiko; Koisuru Asteroid would need to have the same premise in order for this comparison to be useful, but having noted that Koisuru Asteroid is about learning and the importance of multidisciplinary approaches in the sciences, the comparison simply doesn’t hold. Ao and Mira are already connected, and face different obstacles in learning the techniques and walking the path to find an asteroid. As an aside, the side-by-side scene, where Rin and Nadeshiko were looking at the same skies despite being separated by the distance between their camping trips, was intended to highlight the similarities between the two and foreshadow this similarity as how the distance between two different campers and mindset lessened.
In Yama no Susume, the two protagonists are also childhood friends bound together by a promise and reunited after years of being apart. But in that show, the activity of mountain climbing actively ties into Aoi’s character arc. There are trials they have to overcome and they are incrementally working towards a goal, making their journeys both relaxing and engaging. In Koisuru Asteroid, the characters clearly communicate that they love astronomy and they obviously are smitten by the sight of the starry skies, but never does it feel like there is anything to get engaged in. They may or may not find an asteroid, and whether they will is entirely up to chance. This leads to the structure of the show not being streamlined and purposeful, but rather an amalgamation of anime tropes like hot springs and beaches that is hardly incorporated into their daily activities (much unlike resting after a day of mountain climbing).
Yama no Susume‘s main theme over the course of its three seasons was about the gradual process one takes towards climbing to the top of one’s problems and doubts to overcome them, and that this is a journey one should take at their own pace. I concede that Koisuru Asteroid bears some similarities, but these are superficial. I disagree that Koisuru Asteroid‘s interpretation was lacking in purpose and clarity. The engagement in Yama no Susume was augmented by the series providing relevant advice on hiking and mountain climbing, from techniques to reduce injury while walking over difficult ground, to dressing appropriate for the unpredictable weather in mountainous terrain. Koisuru Asteroid fosters a similar level of engagement and relatability by augmenting scenes with relevant information from the real world. Things like the proper procedure for setting up a telescope, or explaining the differences between the types of asteroids based on composition, show that Koisuru Asteroid painstakingly researches its details to ensure that Mira and Ao’s journey is not only plausible, but attainable even in the real world. Science is prominent in Koisuru Asteroid (even during beach and hot springs sequences) for a reason: to reiterate that the girls’ love for the sciences is never too far from their thoughts. Finally, the assertion that finding an asteroid “is entirely up to chance” is a gross oversimplification of the sciences: while there is a probability component involved, A_Painting has just dismissed the fact that astronomers have established procedures and sophisticated equipment which dramatically improves their ability to detect new objects. Saying Ao and Mira’s entire dream is purely luck-based, without mention of the techniques and materials involved, is to ignore a core tenant of Koisuru Asteroid: that knowledge and learning is key in the path to reaching a dream.
Other shows like Girls’ Last Tour capitalize on the wistful feeling of their setting, setting themselves apart through atmosphere and aesthetic. And while Koisuru Asteroid flirts with similar happenstances from time to time, the overall product feels so fabricated, so far removed from anything human, that all we’re left with is an unremarkable, uncreative[sic] husk of a project. From the characters to the structure of the narrative to the oleaginous shoujo-ai elements, Koisuru Asteroid is an anime designed to appeal to a certain subset of the community that has become so infatuated with the better entries in the genre that they will take literally anything that aims to do the same as the above shows did. The girls aren’t acting lovey-dovey with each other with a background of a palpable human relationship, it’s because that’s what this target demographic wants to see—no matter how superficial it is. And therein lies the show’s core conceit: CGDCT shows don’t just appeal to these kinds of otaku. Others like Yuru Camp have broken into the mainstream exactly because they broke away from fabricated tropes, merely using them as a springboard. This show is not what the fans want, and it certainly is not what they need.
Having seen Girls’ Last Tour some years previously and revisited it again more recently: the setting in Girls’ Last Tour was deliberately desolate to convey the idea that Chito and Yū had one another despite the apocalypse that unfolded in their world, speaking to the strength of intellectual curiosity and resilience in people. Both Girls’ Last Tour and Koisuru Asteroid share this in common: the determination and motivation that Ao and Mira have in their pursuit of mastering astronomy to find an asteroid is evident, and paralleled in each of Mikage, Mari, Mai, Chikage and Yū’s passion for their respective fields. Each character brings something unique to the table for Mira and Ao to learn from, fuelling their own knowledge and allowing them to be more capable than before. Because of the sincerity that each character demonstrates, calling Koisuru Asteroid an “uncreative [sic] husk of a project” is to be disingenuous: Koisuru Asteroid has been about the sciences, first and foremost, and this aspect permeates every aspect of the anime. It is deliberate, well-chosen, creatively integrated and in fact, rather than possessing “oleaginous shoujo-ai elements”, the yuri elements are secondary in the series. It is therefore lazy to dismiss Koisuru Asteroid as simply retreading old tropes (itself a tired and ineffectual argument) when the anime plainly offers more than yuri: it does not take a genuine love of the sciences to appreciate what Koisuru Asteroid offers its viewers.
I do not recommend this show, whether you are a fan of the genre or not. It did more to invalidate the genre’s prevalence than any other entry I have seen so far. It lacks the heart and soul of what makes cute girls so endearing, for it isn’t the character designs we fall in love with, but the characters’ journeys. Do not waste your time on this superficial emulation of something you can get better anywhere else. And if you were thinking about watching this to bridge the wait until the Yuru Camp sequels come out, please just watch something else. I mean it.
A_Painting dislikes Koisuru Asteroid because the series recycles tropes from other series and does not enchant as well as the other series that they had mentioned. The review concludes by begging the reader to accept their opinion as fact and skip over Koisuru Asteroid. This diminishes the review’s credibility; an effective reviewer does not need to resort to this because their review convinces the reader on its own merits. After finishing A_Painting’s review, I am left with the distinct impression that this review ultimately took readers on an unnecessarily long ride towards the conclusion that “I didn’t like it, because it didn’t measure up to shows I watched previously”. While the conclusion is valid (everyone is permitted to hold their own opinions), the approach leaves much to be desired. A_Painting’s comparisons are only loosely related to the argument at hand, and an inconsistent voice diminishes the strength of the position. Furthermore, as a reader, I have no obligation to accept A_Painting as the authority, in spite of what the review itself expects of me. Because A_Painting’s review does not have the same arrogance or authoritative tone that Sorrow-kun and Kaioshin-sama once demonstrated with K-On!, I find that the new generation of negativity towards slice-of-life like Koisuru Asteroid lacks the potency that critics of the last generation possessed. I am doubtful that a few negative reviews will be the deciding factor in whether or not people will pick up Koisuru Asteroid the same way the hate on K-On! once dissuaded prospective viewers from ever giving the series a chance.
- I’ve deliberately timed this post to line up a month after Koisuru Asteroid‘s finale aired. This time of year brings back memories: a long time ago, I used to be a TA as a part of my graduate studies, and in this role, grading assignments were among one of my tasks. The easiest assignments to grade were those that worked out of the box and produced the expected results, or were missing enough components as to be non-functional. The tough assignments were those where the student made a modicum of effort towards a solution but did not function as expected. This would require that I go through the assignment line-by-line and see what was missing to assess the grade; this took a bit of time, so I would save them for last.
- A_Painting’s review falls into the category of being those assignments that needed a closer look, and while I’ve just spent this talk exploring why I feel all of their points to be ineffectual, I also feel it fair to cover what A_Painting would need to consider in order for for me to regard the more negative points surrounding Koisuru Asteroid to be more relevant. My first gripe about A_Painting’s review lies in the fact that it opens by disparaging people who disagree with their stance on slice-of-life. While secondary schools often teach their students to open an essay in several ways, with use of a sarcastic or attention-grabbing sentence being one of them, this standard of writing comes across as being childish and immature.
- For the papers I wrote in university, I almost always opened with the motivation behind why something was worth considering, and for any oral presentations, I started with my thesis statement: presenting the facts and its application to catch the audience’s attention works because it sets the stage for the core of the presentation (i.e. “this is what I think, and next, I’ll explain the why”). On this blog, I provide a brief summary to catch readers up, and then immediately delve into the main point of my post, which is typically what I think a series was aiming to accomplish. Sarcastic remarks that insult portions of the reader base, while eye-grabbing, serve to irritate the reader and may render them hostile towards points being made.
- A_Painting’s main issue with Koisuru Asteroid is with Mira and Ao’s characterisation and journey, which they imply to be generic and uninteresting. Rather than comparing Mira and Ao to Yuru Camp△‘s Rin and Nadeshiko, or Yama no Susume‘s Aoi and Hinata, I would have preferred to hear why Ao and Mira were uninteresting characters in the context of their own series. What could’ve the anime done better? How would Chikage, Mari and Mai figure into the interactions between Mira and Ao, and would an increased emphasis on astronomy help with things? Besides keeping things consistent, minimising comparisons with other series helps one to avoid the fallacy of false analogies.
- While Koisuru Asteroid‘s focus was on astronomy, the anime covers ground well outside the realm of astronomy. Despite there being a bullet-proof justification for this (the study of asteroids also requires a similar skill set in geology, charting their trajectories and mapping them involves techniques from cartography, and optical astronomy is weather dependent, so meteorology is important), the anime can appear to be all over the place. Focusing Koisuru Asteroid purely on astronomy in a vacuum might allow the series to really look at astronomy in depth, but it would also diminish the idea that science is increasingly multidisciplinary.
- Koisuru Asteroid will disappoint anyone looking for a pure yuri series, as well as those hoping to completely avoid yuri. Some have argued the series fell short in the Koisuru part of Koisuru Asteroid, and A_Painting feels that there is an inordinate amount of yuri that adds nothing to the story. Series like these are unlikely to satisfy everyone, and for me, I ignore yuri as being a mere token in Koisuru Asteroid, since it has no bearing on motivating Ao and Mira far more effectively than a genuine love and passion for astronomy alone could yield. Similarly, the yuri that was present was used as a point of comedy, eliciting a few laughs here and there but otherwise did not interfere with Koisuru Asteroid‘s main theme.
- I find that it is not sufficient to say that other series did the characters better, because their thoughts on what Koisuru Asteroid could’ve done better are never shown. Making comparisons is a valid form of critique, but care should be taken to ensure that the context is clear: Yuru Camp△ or Yama no Susume, while excellent series in their own right, should not be requisite background knowledge to understand why Koisuru Asteroid was not a good series for A_Painting.
- The onsen and beach episodes of Koisuru Asteroid are actually unique for being able to weave the sciences into something normally associated with rest and relaxation. Koisuru Asteroid may not integrate downtime as seamlessly as Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume, but this downtime still advances the characters’ love for sciences effectively, showing their devotion to their chosen areas of interest where characters normally goof around.
- Overall, if I had any further suggestions to offer to A_Painting, the first of these would be to keep it accessible. While I personally enjoy a formal voice with a bit of spicier vocabulary thrown in, I also take care to ensure that my writing is not outright inaccessible. Typically, I throw in a sentence that explains my thoughts so the meaning of a given word is apparent through the context, and my gold standard is that if one needs a dictionary to read anything I write, I’ve become ineffective in trying to say something. This is why I prefer common words (“peaceful” over “quietude”, “excessive” over “oleaginous”): I get that thesauruses are fun, but so is ensuring something remains readable and clear, and if I need to scratch the itch of showing off my fabulous vocabulary, I typically build up the context first so the meaning of a word can be inferred from what I’ve just said: the goal isn’t to show off all of the fancy words know, it’s to ensure that my point is clearly understood.
- Next, A_Painting’s review gives a score of 4 out of 10. The ten-point scale is an arbitrary measure of quality in an anime, in that scores between 1 and 5 invariably mean the same thing. This is why I prefer a letter grade system. Either something was terrible (F), passable (D), satisfactory (C), good (B) or great (A), and then I am spared the effort to explain why a work merits a 3 of 10 rather than a 1 of 10. Because of MyAnimeList’s setup, my natural inclination is to ask A_Painting, what about Koisuru Asteroid madeit a 4 of 10 rather than a 1 or 2? The extra points imply something (e.g. the music, artwork or scientific details present) was worthwhile, and A_Painting’s review would have benefited from explaining this out in some detail.
- The other suggestion I have is to be more tactful in closing things off. Egregiously calling a series a “waste of time” and telling others not to watch something because it did not not satisfy their own expectations is unlikely to leave the reader convinced. Instead of telling others how to think and what to do, a good review will note that a series has failed to entertain them for the reasons specified, but then also note that there may be a set of viewers who may enjoy it (there are exceptions, and some works, like, Glasslip, are so lacking that it can be tricky to think of a suitable audience).
- My final remark to A_Painting is to try writing some positive reviews, as well: negative reviews are by definition harder to write in that, while easier to rant about what a series doesn’t do well, it is much more difficult to remain fair and convince others of one’s perspective. A positive review for a series that isn’t revolutionary or world-changing will force the reviewer to also consider what could’ve been done better, and striking a balance between gushing and being fair helps one to develop a style that can be applied towards negative reviews. Tearing down is trivially easy, requiring no skill and naught more than a chip on one’s shoulder, so being able to critique without ranting and criticise while keeping the bigger picture in mind is a skill that not all reviewers can cultivate.
- A_Painting’s review of Koisuru Asteroid, assuming a similar rubric I used to grade programming assignments, would earn a C- (5.5 of ten), which is still a passing grade. I got the gist of what was being said, so that is an acceptable amount of effort. Elsewhere on MyAnimeList’s forums, the criticisms of Koisuru Asteroid do not even merit a D grade; single sentences calling the series “bland”, “boring” and “mediocre” form the bulk of discussion about the series.
- “Bland” and “mediocre” are buzzwords taken straight from Behind the Nihon Review’s playbook – these words have somehow become universally accepted as the harshest criticisms one can throw at a slice-of-life work, and those who wield them seem to operate under the entitled belief that saying this about a given slice-of-life series automatically gives their opinion credibility. As it stands, without a proper justification, those words are meaningless on their own. In particular, describing a show as “mediocre” is to be misleading: the common definition of mediocre itself appears to be a contradiction, being taken to mean “average, adequate” and “low quality, poor” simultaneously.
- As it turns out, “mediocrity” has a very specific use case: its original definition is something that is neither good or bad, but not average, either. Average is a mathematical construct with the implication that it represents a true “middle” in a data set. When people say something is “mediocre”, then, they are saying something is not consistently good, bad or average. This is a very roundabout way of describing inconsistency, and a competent writer can express this in a much more direct manner. As it stands, only an unskilled writer would use “mediocre” to describe something as “unremarkable”: when the word is used (if at all), it should be used to indicate “inconsistency”.
- Meanwhile, the word “bland” just doesn’t roll off the tongue well, and the word itself is overused in the realm of reviews: when I see this word thrown around anywhere, I gain the impression that the speaker was unable to articulate themselves fully and are falling back on a meme to express themselves, rather than taking the effort to look back and what they were saying and elaborate more on their intentions. Similarly with the word “mediocre”, I see usage of “bland” being used in writing as an example of being an appeal to authority fallacy: imitating the style of Sorrow-kun won’t help enhance a good argument further, and it won’t make a weak argument true, either.
- The standards for what constitutes a good review at MyAnimeList seems quite arbitrary, and other prolific reviewers have praised A_Painting’s review as being “quick, intelligent, and very readable…succinctly [summarising] its issues; Like [A_Painting] said, its[sic] an amalgamation of genre trappings with little substance”. The self-congratulatory tone of MyAnimeList’s reviewer community is one of the reasons why I do not count reviews posted here being anything approaching useful. The up-vote system, which denotes how “helpful” reviews are, are similarly meaningless. Fortunately, MyAnimeList’s users are aware of the shortcomings of their system. One user notes that the disproportionately high “helpful” ratings of poorly-written reviews come from being the first to write something.
- The key to having a large number of highly up-voted reviews, then, appears to be a fanatical dedication to being the first to tear down something, which increases said review’s visibility but otherwise says nothing of the review’s actual quality. MyAnimeList appears to be a community of excesses, and outside of the reviews, forum discussions are similarly lacking: at least a handful of people characterised “the astronomy/geology [as being a] just barely relevant twist” in Koisuru Asteorid, and that the anime “doesn’t make its main subjects of astronomy and earth sciences very appealing”. The adverse reaction to the sciences in Koisuru Asteroid has implication that anime fans who strongly dislike Koisuru Asteroid lack intellectual curiosity and respect for the scientific method.
- The page quote is sourced from Ip Man 4: The Finale, and translated, gives “I am a practitioner of martial arts. When I encounter injustice, I must stand up (and fight). This is what it means to be a martial artist”. In this context, I am standing up for Koisuru Asteroid, a series that does have genuine heart and an earnestness that makes the series worthwhile. To watch closed-minded people tear it down was something I wasn’t going to stand for, and while I typically turn a blind eye to the capers at MyAnimeList, the attitudes towards Koisuru Asteroid were callous enough to prompt me to step up. This post is a reminder that there are those who have enjoyed this series, and we are more than capable of justifying this enjoyment.
- The takeaway message of this post is a simple one: criticisms of Koisuru Asteroid are untenable, and in the long term, those with an open mind and a positive attitude will end up happier for it. I never understood the need to tear down a series with the intent of stopping others from enjoying it, and would be curious to hear from those who hold a perspective contrary to my own. It is also my hope that I’ve reasonably countered some of the more negative stances on the show to demonstrate there are justifications for why people did enjoy Koisuru Asteroid. With this one in the books, I do not believe I’ll be writing about Koisuru Asteroid again in the foreseeable future, at least until any sort of continuation is announced, and I return to the regularly scheduled programming, with a talk on KonoSuba‘s second OVA on the immediate horizon.
The outcome of reading through and detailing A_Painting’s review of Koisuru Asteroid should make one thing apparent: writing an effective critical or negative review of a series takes some effort and a modicum of skill. A useful negative review exists to explain why expectations were not fulfilled, based on the show itself, without needing to draw more comparisons to other series than necessary, does not insult the reader (or certain portions of the audience) that they are trying to convince, fairly details why expectations were not met and does not beg the reader to accept the review as fact. So, one invariably asks, can I produce an instance of a useful critical review? The answer to this is yes: some time ago, I wrote about how Stella no Mahou lacked magic in spite of its title. I drew upon New Game!, an anime which had a very similar premise, and gave a succinct account of what New Game! accomplished that was missing in Stella no Mahou. I concluded that I was unhappy with Stella no Mahou because the path to Tamaki’s accomplishments were fraught with challenges that did not contribute to her growth, and the supporting cast never gave her the support that she needed. In the end, the achievements Tamaki did experience felt small, diminished by setbacks that overshadowed the joys of putting out a game. In my review, however, I also sought out some positives about the series (the moments that do show teamwork are heartwarming to watch, and I believe I also praised the consistently good artwork), as well as noting that while I did not like it, the series may work for others. This is what it means to write a fair critical review: instead of vehemently tearing down a series, one must apply the same critical thinking to properly express what fell through, and what one was expecting. In addition, a fair reviewer must also see why there are some who like the series, as well as work out who may enjoy the work. In a positive review, one similarly can look at what could further augment a work, and determine what kind of viewers may not find things so enjoyable. Finally, a good reviewer respects the reader’s agency and will never tell readers what to do: this is why I typically only remark on whether or not a series has my recommendation, leaving it to the reader to make their own choices.