In “Defense” of Not Knowing What the Hell “Good” and “Bad” Actually Are

CAUTION: INCREASED VERBOSITY! HARD HAT AREA! PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE LETTERS! I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU READ THIS POST AND COMPLAIN ABOUT ITS LACK OF A POINT!


I am totally circle nine. Totally.

So, between Real Drive episodes, I noticed on MAL that IKnight had finished watching Figure 17, which is one of my absolute favorites (I believe it played an early instrumental role in causing me to be into the anime thing long-term) and went to check my RSS feed to see if he’d posted a post about it but instead I noticed between the Strike Witches tea post (I actually drink 100% juice when I want flavored drinks these days, but 90% of the time it’s water) and the totally awesome Legend of Galactic Heroes post (made, of course, because he could) was this post I’d somehow skipped over because I had no idea what “axiology” was, and also because I was at work last I checked the site. I clicked and read, and (of course) it was related to the complicated mess that he and I have actually discussed (never, by the way, talk to me, unless you like getting doctoral theses out of a simple 10-word question that could have been more simply answered “yes” or “no” or “you are an idiot”; if you do, have at it) and things that go through my mind all the time, namely: what is “good” and what is “bad”?

I don’t think I’m at a point in my life where I can tell you the difference. Sure, I can say that Musashi Gundoh was a horrible, awful, terrible series (which is why it has so many 10 votes on every user-ranking database ever), but anything less than that starts to get nebulous. Where does “bad” end and “good” begin? Is there even a recognizable line? Can it even be objectively determined?

I mean, take a look at my MAL anime list (ATM Machine) (this is actually a hilariously unsubtle attempt to raise my anime list views, because I like numbers growing bigger for some reason), I’m glancing over it and almost none of them make any kind of sense to me at all. Toki o Kakeru Shoujo is rated a 10, but so is Simoun, and so is Baccano!, and so is Toward the Terra. Do I know why this is? No, not really; I can justify it with the 100% valid reason that I think they deserve a 10. I can’t even tell you what the hell a rating of 10 even means. The other ratings don’t really make any sense, either; I’m pretty confident that I think they’re 100% appropriate ratings for the series, but how the hell I arrived at that conclusion I’ve no clue. The only standard I ascribe to when assigning a rating is that the score stands not for how perfect I think the series was, but how little I cared how imperfect it was. No work is going to be “perfect”, but we can ignore its imperfections and bask in the glory that is what it does right.


Like Felt-tan, my only grip on sanity is the reassuringly cold and metallic presence of Haro.

And I’m not even going to go into whether or not I have “good taste” or not. I’m pretty sure I have the best taste in anime, music, etc. in the world, as long as you happen to be me, which none of you are. But as I commented to Kaiserpingvin on last.fm earlier today “There are only two adjectives for my musical taste: Amazing, or horrible. I waffle between the two of them, myself.” And it’s true–I can go from things like Kalefina – oblivious (which is an amazing Kajiura Yuki song) to MOSAIC.WAV – Naisha Odaku-nyan (which is probably the craziest and best thing they’ve done short of “Moe Spiral! Akibattler Slash!”, which is, of course, the track that precedes it on We Love AKIBA-POP) to the brilliant green – Brownie the Cat to Polysics – I My Me Mine (which is…you should know by now)–in that order, with no “buffer songs” in between them, without batting an eye. It’s perfectly logical. I don’t think it’s incongruent at all. Two of those songs, by all rights and means, should actually be horribly annoying and ear-bleeding–but I love them to death and, if in the mood, will listen to them on repeat, at really loud volumes. Hell, I actually thought Marisa Stole the Precious Thing was an amazing song.

And don’t even get me started on books–my local paper’s literary columnist is accepting submissions for top 10 favorite books lists, and if I can ever sit down and think of a suitably eclectic collection of books that don’t make any sense that the same person would like them all (for instance, putting Battle Royale before The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), you can bet that I’ll be spreading confusion among all the seven people in this general area who read that column.

Of course, having bizarre, nonsensical taste is one thing, but when I am faced with something that is hailed as being Genuinely Good, I’m more often than not less than disinterested. Working in a library, I see lots of (what the quotes on the back say are) quality literary fiction go on and off the shelf as everyone is wowed and amazed by this or that debut novel, but does any of that interest me? No, I get all excited when I see someone pick up a copy of The Eyre Affair, and I’m much more genuinely happy to link someone up with a romance novel with a trashy awesome cover than to show someone where the Dave Eggers books are kept (all over the place, apparently). I’d rather spend ten minutes hunting down a copy of Inu-Yasha volume umpteen million (and I don’t really like Inu-Yasha!) than ten seconds showing someone where The Name of the Rose is. My general rule is: if the ad copy of the book tries to tell me how meaningful and important the book is before (or, all too often, instead of) telling me what the book is actually about, I generally just put it back on the shelf and forget about it.


This is as confusing as the concepts I am trying to not think about too much and failing, except this is because of a temporal impossibility!

This happens in anime, too, of course (I’d never spend a whole post on an anime blog and not talk about anime at all!); I’ve famously quoted to people that I’ll get back to watching more than one episode of Kaiba “sometime” (in one instance, “this weekend”, the weekend in question being two months ago), but I just…can’t. I watched the first epiosde and actually sat there and was impressed by Yuasa’s directing skills, and I loved the visual style–but that’s it. I didn’t connect with Kaiba himself (who, by all rights, I should, him being a stranger in a strange land) and, while I understood exactly what Yuasa was trying to get me to feel, I didn’t actually feel it–I just recognized that he was going for it, and it failed. In all seriousness, I don’t like Kaiba for the same reason I don’t particularly like Strike Witches–neither of them really get me interested in the characters or the events onscreen. They’re totally different series, of course, and it’s a somewhat unfair comparison–but I’d say that, on a strictly subjective and personal note, that the bigger failure of the two is Kaiba, because Yuasa was trying to pull me in emotionally into a story, and it didn’t work. In the case of Strike Witches, I don’t think it was even trying very hard to grip the viewer in an emotional stranglehold that wouldn’t let up, so since I perceive its lack of interesting (to me) elements as not in the scope of the series’ intent, I’m not too bothered by its failure. And–just for symmetry’s sake–I think Shimeda is an amazing artist.

That doesn’t mean I don’t support Yuasa, because I think we need anime like that; it’s up for debate whether or not we need more anime like Strike Witches, but it’s a moot point because that’s what producers think we want, and so we will get them, and in all honesty I’d rather there be a few series like Strike Witches (except maybe better), because mindless entertainment is excellent for recharging mental batteries.

I think I was going to have a point in this post, somewhere, but it doesn’t really have one. Either I actually have terrible taste and I’m simply deluding myself, or I’ve accepted that quality is in the eye of the beholder, and what I think is super-amazing and awesome someone else will find humdrum and boring–some might even say generic. But I don’t really get bothered about people not liking what I like, as long as they aren’t total jerkbags about it. Which can be rare, sometimes.

IN CONCLUSION:

Pretend that the cell phone is actually symbolic of horrendously complicated philosophical subjects (such as, for instance, this one), and that I, personified by my Lucky Star avatar Tsukasa, am busily fumbling around with it and trying to make it work. Not depicted: the part where “Tsukasa” takes the “cell phone”, throws it across the room, then runs over and jumps on it for a while, and then picks up the remains, places them in a plastic bag, gets out a rolling pin, and proceeds to roll the “cell phone” into very fine metaphorical dust before taking the remains to a really big hill and scattering the fragments to the four winds, forever ridding the planet of the hideous presence of the “cell phone” menace. “Tsukasa” returns, is welcomed as a hero, and is given carrot cake. With delicious cream cheese frosting. She eats it. It is delicious. Mmm, cake.

(1500+ words? I AM GOING TO SHOOT MYSELF)

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15 Responses to “In “Defense” of Not Knowing What the Hell “Good” and “Bad” Actually Are”


  1. 1 lelangir 29 July 2008 at 11:14 pm

    totally off topic: I could watch that .gif all day. Oh man I love LS.

  2. 2 Baka-Raptor 29 July 2008 at 11:23 pm

    You’re right, Kaiba sucks. It’s for frauds and pedophiles.

  3. 3 blissmo 30 July 2008 at 1:43 am

    You gave Baccano! 10 out or 10? SO DID I! I think the “good” and “bad” anime are just based on the majority of the same opinions. When I think something is ‘good’, I look for the artwork, characters, plot-line and animation, and even though those parts may lack in some areas, I’d still call it good. But judging anime from good and bad seems to be totally different from the good and evil in real life as well, so I wonder if there’s something for an anime like a bible that states if they’re good or not lols. But really, for anime I think it’s just all somewhat opinionated.

  4. 4 bateszi 30 July 2008 at 2:54 am

    Thing is, if you actually watched more than one episode of Kaiba, you’d probably realise that all of these complaints (which, lets not forget, are based on one episode) are mere hang-ups on your part, rather than actual issues with the show in question. You say “Kaiba himself”, but as far as I know, you’re talking about Warp. You still haven’t watched more than one episode because, for whatever reason, you’re putting Kaiba in a box that it doesn’t belong, simply because that’s a convenient way of avoiding it. It isn’t what you think it is and that you deign to out-right declare it a “failure” in this article is depressing.

  5. 5 rroknedaj 30 July 2008 at 4:26 am

    I like Kaiba, but at the same time think that anyone watching it would have to have their turned on which usually isn’t the case.

    Anyway, For me its more of “like & dislike” rather than “good & bad” because I think I’m right(which most of the time, I’m not xD). Eitherway, good post!

  6. 6 issa-sa 30 July 2008 at 4:59 am

    It would’ve been awesome if Tsukasa ever did all that.
    There are shows that I know I loved and enjoyed, but when the cerebral part of me asks “is it GOOD?”, all I can say is “at least I think so”. But what that part of me is really trying to ask is it good enough for everyone else that may not have remotely close tastes to myself, in which case I should just change the question to “can you recommend it?”. Then I find that sometimes I may love a show to bits, but a good portion of people out there will probably think its crap, and vice versa for some other show.

  7. 7 OGT 30 July 2008 at 7:34 am

    @batezi: Yeah, I’m fully aware of that–I’vc been told things start to change around episode 3, and I’m sure I’ll be eating words later on, but I find it difficult to even muster the courage to think about opening up episode two. I’m pretty convinced that I’m 100% wrong about Kaiba. It’s possible that it’s too good for me to like. It’s also possible I am getting “hung-up” on other things relating to it, especially because a lot of the people I’ve known who’ve liked Mind Game and Kemonozume are people who seem to think in ways I don’t, and so I assume that maybe he’s just not for me. It’s totally irrational on my part, but if I’m not interested, I’m not interested–and none of the praise I see lavished on it really makes me interested in seeing more. My labeling it a “failure” is simply what I feel–from looking around the internet, it’s a success, and I recognize and respect that.
    .
    The whole Kaiba issue is probably more of a nightmare for me than it is for you, trust me. I think I kick myself and mentally beat myself up every time I think about it because I think I’m too “stupid” or “closed-minded” to appreciate it, up to and including that paragraph. I think I actually hate myself for not liking it, the same way I hate myself for not really giving a whit about, say, fine literature. So it’s entirely 100% my fault.

  8. 8 The Animanachronism 30 July 2008 at 9:05 am

    Hmm. I think I know what you mean about the selling of books based on their importance, intellectual merit and so forth. It is a bit counterproductive, though I guess it can certainly shift volumes. (Isn’t there an old joke about the number of people who own A Brief History of Time compared to the number of people who’ve actually read it? Non-fiction, but a good example.)

    I have a feeling I mentioned a similar problem somewhere in my own post. I recall bringing up The Song of Roland back when we discussed this before, because I enjoyed it on a purely visceral, action-movie level.

  9. 9 TheBigN 30 July 2008 at 9:48 am

    “I think I kick myself and mentally beat myself up every time I think about it because I think I’m too “stupid” or “closed-minded” to appreciate it, up to and including that paragraph.”

    Well, stop hitting yourself then and suffer through it? And Strike Witches too, even though the latter isn’t as good as Kaiba at all.

    I like how you’ve sorta externalized how I feel sometime when I try to write posts sometimes. There’s a point, obviously, but I think just random rambling on the same topic works just as well. :3

  10. 10 OGT 30 July 2008 at 9:55 am

    @blissmo: Distinguishing “good” from “evil” in real life isn’t simple, either–shades of grey and all that. Same for anime–whether it’s “good” or “bad” depends on your perspective, and I have a totally different (and frequently whacked-out) perspective from everyone else. I’ll tell people to watch or read something I didn’t like, because I think, from what I know about it, they’d like it. Very rarely do I think that something is terrible and awful simply because I don’t like it.
    .
    @rroknedaj: “Like/dislike” is simply a more subjective way of saying “good/bad”. The important thing is stressing the subjectivity of your opinions.
    .
    @issa-sa: That’s pretty much my take on it–it’s good for me, but it’s not necessarily good for you, and vice versa. I try to keep that in mind every time I talk to people, either person to person or in posts like this. It doesn’t always work (see above!), but I’d never let myself post something that was unadulterated hatred for something.
    .
    @Animanachronism: The bit about selling books on their intellectual merit is simply my own personal rule; I see those quotes and go “No, sorry, I’ll be the judge of how important this book is, not you.” I’m aware it’s ad copy and designed to sell the book, but it’s still off-putting to me.
    .
    And you have mentioned it to me before, via The Song of Roland, yes. Something being “objectively” good is one thing, liking it is another. In quiet, private, and sleep-deprived moments, I question whether some people these days have linked the two irrevocably in their minds, rendering them unable to consider that someone might not like something they do.

  11. 11 otou-san 30 July 2008 at 10:01 pm

    so what you’re saying is, what’s the point in pretending that you’re being objective when you’re talking about a matter that comes down to taste? Or are you saying the opposite? Sorry, Tsukasa distracted me.

    There are quantifiable things by which you can measure good and bad, right? Or not. Maybe even those criteria are subjective.

    What the hell do I know? I know I don’t like Strike Witches. Or Hemingway. You may think you didn’t make a point in this post, but I’m pretty sure I’ve now made the most pointless comment on it.

  12. 12 OGT 30 July 2008 at 10:24 pm

    @otou-san: You got it, pretty much. This kind of post is what happens when you let thoughts stew in my brain mostly unchecked for a couple months, so it’s positively James Joyceian in its execution, if more understandable.
    .
    There are things by which you can measure “good” and “bad” and have a reasonable amount of objectivity (for instance, I’d never try to hold Kanokon up as anything but utter trash–but the fact that it’s good at being utter trash is why I really don’t hate it; other coin, I’ve gone out of my way to explain to people that just because you hate Yuasa doesn’t make his anime worthless trash), but I’m pretty sure that, in the end, enjoyment is up to the individual’s personal taste.
    .
    The “point”, then, is simply that “good” (or “bad”) is in the eye of the beholder, and if I like something, that doesn’t mean you will. It also means I don’t give a damn how well-respected something it, if I don’t like it, I don’t like it–and that, pretty much, is why I didn’t get an English degree, as I’d probably have spent a lot of time staring at books I’d rather throw against the wall.

  13. 13 Michael 31 July 2008 at 2:11 am

    I’ve read Finnegans Wake and I totally think it’s shit. You don’t let other people tell you what you like, it’s something personal. If you hate something most people like, then you hate it. I myself love Ichigo 100% and Hatsukoi Limited, but I try to compensate my ‘bad’ taste in manga with ‘good’ books in literature.

    In the end, it’s still up to you.

  14. 14 usagijen 31 July 2008 at 5:19 am

    My ‘relationship’ with Kaiba is hanging on a thin line. I found the 4 episodes I watched to be engaging, but not quite enough as other people who praise it to the skies. I only had appreciation for Kaiba during my 2nd watch, in which I probably had a mindset of “I should love this, because the rest of the people out there say so!”.

    And, as it turns out, my lack of motivation to continue on watching shows my true colors, how I clearly am not cut-out for Kaiba-esque animes, or that this is not the anime for me =/

    As the commentators have already mentioned, you shouldn’t let others dictate your taste, something which I ‘violated’ as I allowed myself to succumb to the pressure of watching and enjoying Kaiba. Perhaps I just wanted to know how much of an intellectual viewer I am or something. I don’t really know anymore. All I know is that I love Toshokan Sensou no matter what trash people say about it.

  15. 15 RyanA 3 August 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Skimming by, giant post :) Ratings are personal, and number systems don’t always help. Maybe this might interest you RRS Theory.

    Cheers


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