The Anime Pulse #21: The Perfect Score

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of The Anime Pulse! I recently did a couple of retro reviews on D.Gray-man and Death Note and gave them perfect scores of 10/10. I have done that a couple of times in the past with some of my other reviews and I didn’t want to give off the impression that I just hand perfect scores out left and right like they are simply free candy from that unmarked van in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Part of the reason why I’ve handed out so many here on The Outer Haven deals with the freedom in which I am allowed to contribute to the site. Our boss of bosses, Keith Mitchell, has told us to write about whatever we feel passionate about and so a lot of the retro reviews I have done were about the anime shows I enjoyed the most and that I have given perfect scores to. I have watched over 350 anime series in my lifetime and if you saw my list, you would see that I have very few perfect 10 scores versus the amount of series that I have seen.

But this isn’t a defense column to say the least. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about what persuades me to give a series a perfect score. So let’s break it down!

Story: This is the biggest factor in a high score, but it’s not the only factor. There are series out there that had an amazing story, but weak characters and I ended up giving the series a 7 or an 8. A story can really make or break an anime, but there are rare exceptions where this isn’t really the case. Even though I didn’t give Kill la Kill a 10/10 when I watched it, it is a great example of having a thin story, but still being highly entertaining and highly addicting to watch.

The creators have to remember that this is a world you, the viewer, are investing your time into. What is the world like? Why does this place exist? Why do our characters need to go there? World building and integrating it into the story to enhance it are crucial and key elements. Plus, knowing what kind of story you want to tell and seeing it through carefully makes a world of difference. Robotics;Notes is a great example of a story that had tremendous potential and REALLY dropped the ball at the end by becoming convoluted and a bit cheesy.

I understand that not all anime are working with source material that has finished. The original Fullmetal Alchemist and Tegami Bachi are good examples of taking liberties with the franchise and turning it into something amazing. Those two series seemingly pull it off flawlessly while a lot of series struggle with it. Heck, even the English dub version of Desert Punk re-wrote the entire script to focus on American humor while keeping all of the anime’s plot points intact and because as such, I can’t watch Desert Punk in anything but English because of the integration of humor into the story.

There are many different facets to story and each anime presents it in their own way, but once you’ve watched enough anime you tend to pick out the good from the mediocre and the bad. You can tell what stories have been done to death and which just fall into the realm of anime tropes.

Characters: I don’t know if I would call the characters equally as important to the story, but they are pretty damn important. Having an amazing story and weak characters isn’t a very good balance. Developing strong characters in a half-assed story is also pretty bad because when you feel for a character more than what is happening overall, there’s problems there. Typically an anime needs more than a typical cours (13 episodes) in order to properly develop the characters within it. Some of the best character development comes from long-running anime. Shows such as Bleach, One Piece, Naruto, Fairy Tail, Fullmetal Alchemist, D.Gray-man, etc have amazing character development, but all of those series have hundreds of episodes to get the job done (save for FMA which had 64).

Trying to squeeze character development into a 13 episode series is REALLY tough and kudos to anyone who can pull it off. Heck, even some series have trouble doing it with 25 episodes. It all depends on the overall cast. The number of characters in a show can really impact how well you can develop them, too.

The other thing about character building is HOW they are built. You can give a character a deep history and lengthy backstory, but if that story in and of itself is too cliche, too boring, or has no real interesting points to it, then that character ends up suffering and that hurts the overall story of the anime as well.

It’s not just about backstory either. Character growth throughout the series is a must, too. Learning about a character’s past should intertwine with the current story and sometimes act as the catalyst to help that character grow as well. Pulling that off seamlessly is a pretty daunting task, but it’s not impossible.  When you find that area between steak and sizzle with a character and how they relate to the overall story, then you know you have something special going.

Artwork: Now this is a peculiar topic because any gamer will try to apply the old “graphics don’t make the game argument” and while that is true in anime as well, it’s only true to an extent. When I talk about the art, I’m not talking about how pretty the background visuals look or how well the CG is blended into the hand-drawn animation. I’m talking about emotions and reactions.

Everything from body language, facial expressions, etc, play crucial roles. If the story is supposed to have a comedic or dramatic part, then the characters have to look that part to sell the story. They also need to pull off certain looks to reflect their own character as well.

And finally…

Voice Acting: This one is very hard to judge because I don’t speak Japanese fluently. I’m at the basic of basic levels of learning when it comes to Japanese, but even though I can’t understand what they are saying without subtitles, you can still understand how the characters feel through the different sounds of their voices. Everything from tone and inflection matters here because it is that emotion that sells the character and sells the story being told. Bad voice acting can really kill an anime.

Case in point is Akame ga Kill. I watched the FUNimation dub the other day and the voice acting was just ATROCIOUS. I couldn’t get into the show at all because I just couldn’t take it seriously. This was a series that I gave a pretty decent review on, too, when I saw it in Japanese. Akame ga Kill wasn’t without its faults, but if I saw this series in English before Japanese, I wouldn’t have scored it as high because the voice actors seemingly half-assed it and didn’t sell me on the story of the anime.

So those are the four big things I look for when handing out a perfect score. I usually ask myself these questions:

Did the story make me believe in the world?
Did the characters become relatable and allow me to connect with them?
Is the artwork selling the story and the characters?
Is the voice acting selling me the story and the characters?

Even if I answer yes to all of these, I still go back and ask even more questions like..

Was this story good enough to make me want to watch this?
If yes, did I wish it were next week already after the episode concluded?
Does this anime make me wish that EVERY week?
How much do I really love these characters?
How much do these characters really contribute to the overall experience?
Did I care about the supporting characters as much as the main characters?
How well did it follow the source material?

I’m sure there are more questions that I ask myself that I’m forgetting, but there are a lot of them that have to get the best answers out of me in order to receive a 10/10. It’s never like “oh this anime was good… I think I’ll give it a perfect score because I enjoyed it a lot.” It’s more like “WOW! This anime was simply amazing! I really wish this show didn’t end, I could watch this forever” and then a month later I find myself going back and rewatching certain episodes or the entire series.. and I mean multiple times. If an anime is THAT good to where I can enjoy watching it multiple times without question and never tire of it, then it probably deserves a 10/10 rating from me.

Of course, I have to put this little disclaimer out there that just because I give something a 10/10 doesn’t mean you will. Everyone has their different tastes in anime and what someone enjoys may be something I hate and vice versa. It really makes you wonder why we even have rating systems to begin with if were just meant to enjoy what we want in this one life that we get, but perhaps someone giving something a high score will encourage someone else to watch it and formulate their own opinion it.

But anyway, I just wanted to share how I actually do my critiques of anime and how I arrive at the scores that I give out. Hopefully you found my thought process interesting and maybe it’ll make you see anime a bit differently the next time you watch one.

Anyway, do you guys agree with what I’m saying? Do you have a different take on it? Let me know! Leave a comment below, drop a line to my email: joshpiedra@theouterhaven.net, leave us a post on Facebook, or follow and DM me on Twitter @PulseIn

Until next time.

Ja ne!

About The Author

Josh Piedra

Josh (or J.J. as some have come to call him), is a long-time geek culture enthusiast with a deep passion for anime, manga and Japanese culture. Josh also has a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design and is a creative writer who has created original content for over 20 years! He is also the author of the original English light novel Final Hope.

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