Over the years, I’ve reviewed a lot of anime. I’ve watched through hundreds of titles, thousands of episodes, and countless hours of content, only to pass judgment in a snarky smackdown or a few pages of gushing praise. For most shows, it’s become almost a second nature. In many cases, I’m already ranting (or gushing) about my current projects on Twitter or some other format, and it’s just a matter of compiling these assorted praises and gripes into one cohesive argument.
Still, once every blue moon, there’s a title that comes along that I can only call “un-reviewable.” By “un-reviewable,” I don’t mean that an opinion can’t be formed, nor do I mean that words can’t describe it. Rather, these are the titles that I simply can’t put into words.
For example, in December, I sat down with Serial Experiments Lain, with the intention of a Christmas article. And, by all rights, it seemed like it would be a reality. This is a title that was, by all rights, universally acclaimed.
For those who haven’t seen it, Lain is a near-future cyberpunk series by Yoshitoshi Abe with a strong surrealist bent. The series revolves around Lain, a middle-school girl who begins to fall into a second world that exists entirely online. As she does, outside forces begin to conspire against her, from government forces to a secret online society. While the show’s underlying themes are a bit on the preachy, self-aggrandizing side, the series proves to be an enthralling experience nonetheless. The show’s use of color and abstract landscapes clash with the show’s character character designs to create a wonderfully twisted atmosphere.
And… that’s about it. Expanding upon this feels like a fool’s errand, as it would lead to me staring at a blank screen for hours on end. What was to be a Christmas surprise ended up ultimately being tabled.
This is something that’s certainly not unique to my situation – I’ve spoken with countless writers over the years, who have expressed concerns about titles that they’ve been unable to tackle with proper justice. These are our insurmountable challenges, our proverbial white whales. They’re the titles we all seek to overcome, but won’t admit that they’re just out of reach. Colleague Matt Brown (Anime Dream‘s former EIC) said the following of his own trial with Seirei no Moribito:
I considered reviewing Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Spirit) a while back. The title quite literally describes the plot: by happenstance, a warrior woman takes charge of a boy posessed by a water spirit, thought to be the cause of an upcoming draught. The themes in the show are straightforward and beautifully executed, and therein lies the challenge. A reviewer hopes to add something to the discussion, as it were — some insight into the creator’s methods, or into the characters. A reviewer of this show, by contrast, has no standing over the average viewer. It obsoletes us.
Brown’s final statement rings particularly true. When we cannot add to the conversation, what point is there to our review? How could we write a critique, a discussion of a show when there’s nothing to discuss, or when the discussion itself extends far beyond what’s in the show itself? How do we begin to discuss these titles, where a discussion isn’t needed outside of “this show is good or bad”, or where the discussion extends far beyond matters of subjective quality?
Perhaps this is where we must begin to look away from the norms, and embrace a larger picture. While there are traditions in print media, the internet has given us great opportunities to branch out to other mediums. Be it video, audio, or even humorous animated gifs or MS Paint doodles, endless means of expression and avenues of conversation are open to us. And, while it goes against what many of us have come to stand for, perhaps it is one of these avenues that can finally lead us to slay the white whale of the un-reviewables.