“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
Every season, it appears that there is always some sort of controversy surrounding anime; being a medium in which a wide range of topics are covered, it is inevitable that some series can invite trouble for their candid or graphic portrayal of certain events. The slice-of-life genre, on the other hand, is one characterised by an emphasis on themes of discovery, teamwork and camaraderie. Such series delve into topics that viewers might find unremarkable with the aim of presenting them in a new light and indicating that journeys of learning are always meaningful. These easy-going series offer viewers with a sense of calm and catharsis, focusing on everyday experiences and the mundane over anything dramatic, being particularly well-suited for helping viewers to relax and find peace in a high-paced world. As such, when slice-of-life series find themselves amidst a controversy, it is always baffling that people would go to such lengths to express their displeasure at anime they do have the option of passing over. Koisuru Asteroid finds itself at the heart of the latest bit of controversy: this unassuming but sincere anime follows Mira Konohata and Ao Manaka on their journey to fulfil a childhood promise and discover an asteroid together. While the series has been warmly-received early in its run, detractors began appearing mid-season, citing the pacing and progression as being unrelatable and boring. From a certain point of view, this is understandable; Koisuru Asteroid had given the impression it would be about the Koisuru (恋する, “In Love”), but instead, chose to focus extensively on the scientific aspects, namely, the Asteroid part of the series’ name. Koisuru Asteroid‘s detractors at MyAnimeList were the most vocal with their displeasure: they took to voting down the series, dropping it from a 7.11 to 6.86 within the space of a few weeks, and articulated their discontent in the forums. Here, it became clear that Koisuru Asteroid‘s detractors fell into one of two camps: those who were simply disappointed in the direction the series took and did not relate to the science, and those with a larger chip on their shoulder surrounding the portrayal of the sciences in the series.
Koisuru Asteroid admittedly does not progress as a typical love story would, and instead, more closely resembles a documentary or NOVA special in its execution. Much as how documentaries and NOVA specials tend to focus on the background, motivation, methodologies and results of a scientific endeavour, Koisuru Asteroid has geology and astronomy take centre stage: the anime aims to convey the idea that the sciences are multi-disciplinary, that knowledge and approaches from different fields, when used in conjunction with one another, is how new discoveries are made. To this end, Koisuru Asteroid focuses on the techniques and aspects of the field, providing enough detail such that a viewer can see the similarities between geology and astronomy to appreciate how the Earth Science club’s formation is actually beneficial to Ao and Mira’s dream. The same time spent on portraying the sciences is to take away from the time spent on the characters; while perhaps detrimental for an anime, documentaries invariably do not suffer from the same challenges because the lead scientists and technicians are on the show not to show their personal and professional development, but rather, to walk viewers through a process. In Koisuru Asteroid, the “character” gaining the most growth would therefore be the act of discovering an asteroid; Ao and Mira are merely the conduits to facilitate this process. With this in mind, Koisuru Asteroid‘s documentary-like feel can be off-putting for those who entered the series expecting a love story, and for folks who count the series as boring for covering directions they had not anticipated, I can sympathise with them, remarking that documentaries are similarly not for everyone. People are free to watch and enjoy the shows that they do, and it is inevitable that occasionally, some shows simply won’t work for some people based on expectations or delivery. It happens to be the case that I enjoyed Koisuru Asteroid greatly, but I have no problem acknowledging that this anime isn’t for everyone.
The second group of individuals dissatisfied with Koisuru Asteroid, on the other hand, are impossible to sympathise with: they argue that Koisuru Asteroid is an inadequate and inaccurate portrayal of the sciences. Such individuals are characterised by claims such as “even [someone who knows little about the topic] wouldn’t say that this series isn’t enough to satisfy those who’re looking for pure substance…this shouldn’t be seen as some sort of replacement for the real deal” and that “[a] good SOL would squeeze out interesting and engrossing scenes from the most uninteresting material”. In particular, one individual goes far as to suggest that “if you do enjoy the subject matter (sciences) it doesn’t give you enough”, and that, since “this is an Astronomy and Earth Science anime, MAKE ME CARE ABOUT THOSE SUBJECTS! When showing the view through the telescope, SHOW THE DAMN PLANETS…And I am someone who cares a shit ton about the subjects”. Remarks such as these indicate a holier-than-thou attitude, that creates the impression that these individuals mean to present themselves as experts in the field and therefore have a well-defined reason for disliking Koisuru Asteroid. Another outspoken individual indicates that “A friend told me about this series because I’m a big fan of space. I wanted to love the series but I really feel no inspiration”. Folks acting as though they are experts on the topics at hand (astronomy and geology here) and using this as a justification to tear down Koisuru Asteroid are no different than those who fall on purple prose and obtuse, arcane academic vocabulary to intimidate and obfuscate. By claiming an interest in astronomy, these two individuals make an appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy: they feign knowledge and experience with astronomy to create the impression that, if a legitimate fan of astronomy dislikes Koisuru Asteroid, then it must be the case that Koisuru Asteroid failed to do their research and faithfully portray the elements at the heart of the series. This is, of course, untrue, and I find it highly disingenuous that people would be willing to play this card in order to sound more convincing. Such individuals are very much lacking in intellectual honesty for resorting to such means, and further lacking in intellectual curiosity if they genuinely believe that Koisuru Asteroid was an unfaithful and untruthful portrayal the sciences, where in fact, the opposite is true: the anime is very well-researched and does a phenomenal job of showing the methods used in astronomy and geology. The reality is that anyone who’s got even rudimentary knowledge with earth sciences and astronomy will be able to ascertain the authenticity and correctness of what is seen in Koisuru Asteroid, because they’ve used the equipment or have familiarity with the methods, in turn leaving them able appreciate what this anime is presenting to viewers.
- I’ve deliberately timed this post to line up a month after Koisuru Asteroid‘s finale aired, to give things a chance to settle down before entering the fray for myself. Having said this, I’ve deliberately chosen not to name any names in this post because I am aware that the negative MyAnimeList crowd can be very touchy about opinions differing than their own: apparently, negative opinions are a form of “good writing” that “should be celebrated, not silenced”. I couldn’t disagree more: good writing is simply that which is effective at conveying an idea, and more often than not, I find that negative rants tend to devolve into incoherency because the individual holding the opinion is writing on raw emotion rather than reason.
- The negative remarks surrounding Koisuru Asteorid at MyAnimeList’s forums are mostly criticisms limited to only a single sentence, offering no detail as to why such a lack of personal enjoyment should translate to discouraging others from watching this series, which offers very little insight as to what the rationale is. As noted earlier, people have simply dismissed Koisuru Asteroid as being “bland”, “boring” and “mediocre”. I personally dislike use of certain buzzwords in anime reviews. “Bland” and “mediocre” are terms 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.
- While the forums have been host to most of the discussion, the most appalling and disgraceful display of ignorance was found in one of the reviews: on the same day that Koisuru Asteroid‘s finale aired, a highly negative review was quickly published and in the space of a few short hours, had accrued some 35 upvotes. This review was a nonstop torrent of abuse directed at Koisuru Asteroid, asserting that it was nothing more than a “being regurgitated tropefests[sic] without substance merely appealing to the base emotions of escapist fanatics”. This review was, in short, insulting to the readers: the text supposes that it is the case that those who disagree with the review’s conclusions are ignorant.
- In doing so, this reviewer closed the door to conversation. How one approaches the subject matter is important, and the reviewer demonstrated a complete lack of understanding for their review’s audience with such a claim. Someone who does not enjoy slice-of-life anime is unlikely to watch Koisuru Asteroid, but for fans of the slice-of-life genre, being told that their detractors are correct would sound very jarring. The review had just spent a paragraph telling readers that slice-of-life detractors are wrong, giving the impression that she is more knowledgeable, authoritative than the reader, but now, in falling back on the opinions of others (specifically, those they’d just insulted) to validate their own, the reviewer comes across as being indecisive and uninformed.
- As though the reviewer was uncertain as to whether or not people would listen, they next appealed to readers, begging them not to watch Koisuru Asteroid: “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.” An effective reviewer never tells the reader what to do – a capable reviewer never needs to resort to this because their review convinces the reader on its own merits. In presuming to tell the reader what to do, it again creates hostility with some readers who will inevitably ask, on what grounds would the reviewer have the authority to tell others how to conduct their lives?
- As a reader, I certainly have no obligation to accept this reviewer as the authority in spite of what their review expects me to do. Telling readers what to do is a sign of a weak, ineffective review: the position the argument poses, and the evidence selected to support this position, should stand of their own merits. A reader can then make their own judgment (either agree with the review because the points are sound, or admit that the review makes fair points, and then disagree). As it stands, a good review gives the reader an impression of what made a work worthwhile (or where it was unsuccessful) and allows the reader to form their own conclusions of things.
- I have clearly defined what I find in a worthwhile review. However, the standards for what constitutes a good review at MyAnimeList seems quite arbitrary, and other prolific reviewers have praised this review as being “quick, intelligent, and very readable…succinctly [summarising] its issues; Like [the reviewer] said, its[sic] an amalgamation of genre trappings with little substance”. While definitely quick and perhaps easy to read, this individual’s approach certainly was not intelligent.
- Amidst the discussions about the review, some claims do stand out: their review is suggested as being “…pretty neat and scathing (yet not too ranty[sic] or in particularly bad faith towards those who enjoy it)”. The opposite is true: this review was written entirely in bad faith – this was most evident in the first paragraph, where the writer suggests that those who hate on the slice-of-life genre and its viewers have a valid reason for doing so. The entirety of said review is one long rant, complaining about how Koisuru Asteroid fell short of the mark without a satisfactory explanation of why this was the case.
- Consequently, I completely disagree with the praise for this review: the writing fails to convince the reader because it was unable to adequately provide the required evidence, on top of its other deficiencies. The exact shortcoming of Koisuru Asteroid for the individual were never presented, and all readers have to go on is that the anime makes use of too many tropes, so on their verdict, other viewers should skip it. 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, and from what is described, it appears that the key to having a large number of highly up-voted reviews, is to simply possess 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.
- I have no qualms about opinions that differ than my own, but I do take exception when people agree with untenable positions with no justification, especially when the opinion-holder makes it clear that they’re not interested in discussion, and still somehow manage to be rewarded for their actions. As it was, this individual (which I won’t mention by name so that they don’t gain any more attention) does not deserve any of the upvotes they received. I (jokingly) remark that, if folks were to go ahead and upvote the other reviews to the top of the page to push this one off, that’d be helpful to some capacity, although what I’d like most is to understand why this reviewer took the approach that they did.
- If this reviewer were ever open to suggestions (which I highly doubt), my first suggestion would be not open with a passage that makes any assumptions about the readers. The aim of a review is to inform and (where necessary) persuade: insulting those with a different opinion than oneself is not likely to be effective at convincing those same people to listen to the merits of one’s arguments. It would have been more appropriate to simply describe the genre, its general traits and where Koisuru Asteroid missed the mark, rather than petty name-calling against those who disparage or enjoy the slice-of-life genre.
- Rather than taking a roundabout way of implying that she was more knowledgeable and authoritative than readers in her first paragraph, this reviewer would have done better to present a thesis statement (e.g. “Koisuru Asteroid‘s premise of discovering an asteroid with a childhood friend sounds promising, but in practise, the series did not succeed for the following reasons”) summarising what the review intended to provide evidence for.
- I further note that being more tactful in closing things off would be more persuasive for readers. 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, since it now creates a challenge. 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. Doing this is fairer to the reader, who then can make their own call as to whether or not a work is worth watching, given the evidence presented. Finally, I note that 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.
- Between the up-voting of bad reviews and use of vocabulary sourced straight from Sorrow-kun’s playbook, it is apparent that MyAnimeList is a community of excesses. 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” (which is decisively false). The adverse reaction to the sciences in Koisuru Asteroid holds the implication that anime fans who strongly disliked the anime lack intellectual curiosity and respect for the scientific method, valuing their own ideology and emotional responses over indisputable fact.
- 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.
- 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 providing counterarguments against the negativity against Koisuru Asteroid should make two things apparent: the anime is not the disappointment people make it out to be, and that there are some who believe that they can simply say they have a background in astronomy or geology to sound more convincing, where in fact, they only succeed in demonstrating their own ignorance. I appreciate that I am a very steadfast defender of slice-of-life anime, on account of how they present useful life lessons. However, I will also remark that not every series hits these notes for me. I have previously gone through series that left me disappointed, and fairly explained why my expectations were not fulfilled, based on the show itself. I certainly didn’t claim that my own background or skill-set rendered my opinions absolute, nor did I resort to using buzz words, or insult my readers (or certain portions of the audience) in any way. I strove to fairly detail why expectations were not met and never begged the reader to accept my review as fact. So, one invariably asks, can I produce an instance of a useful critical review satisfying my own criteria? 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.