The critical evaluation of anime (and media in general) is driven by comparison. This is only natural since we base all our opinions off of previous experiences. If this wasn’t the case we’d have to pull ratings out of thin air. Drawing parallels between anime we have already processed and ones we are still processing allows us to infer where they stand. And since a consensus on the average anime is impossible to establish, these comparisons are vital in presenting why an anime is deserving of a certain ranking. However, if one were to compare Devilman Crybaby to Attack on Titan, it would not be received very well. So what defines whether two things are fair to compare?
Comparable media usually has a mutual component: the narrative of a Black Mirror episode is always bound to technology and how it can affect humanity. Tatami Galaxy and Ping Pong the Animation were both directed by Masaaki Yuasa. And Durarara!! and Baccano! were both written by Ryohgo Narita, and apply the same multi-perspective structure. These common denominators are essential when positing a meaningful connection between shows. Because of this, it is understandable that Devilman Crybaby and Attack on Titan, two shows that have virtually nothing in common aside from their brutality, would cause an outrage when compared under a title like ‘Devilman Crybaby is a sexy Attack on Titan.’
The comparison of productions by the same studios is something we also see often. I myself did this recently in my post ‘The A-1 Protagonist’, in which I compared Darling in the Franxx’s Hiro to a few other protagonists of A-1 shows. For those that have read the post, it should come as no surprise that I am not an A-1 fan. But the legitimacy of the holistic belief that an anime studio can be liked or disliked has been debated many times. Those that disagree with said belief assert that a studio cannot be considered a single entity. An anime is, after all, made by many separate individuals, and the composition of these individuals shifts between each of a studio’s productions. While two anime might be labelled under the same studio, is it fair to compare them if the staff behind these anime is fundamentally different?
The works of individuals such as directors are often compared by the more pedantic of analogists, but this too knows fault. Akiyuki Shinbou, for instance, is credited as director for nearly all Shaft shows. But a common misconception is that he has always functioned as the leading director on these shows. In a lot of Shaft shows Shinbou is actually more of a supportive figure, who should not overshadow the fact that his shows are often directed by others alongside him. If one was to line up ‘Akiyuki Shinbou’s greatest directorial accomplishments’, they might list things that should be accredited to other directors instead. These kinds of misunderstandings are especially something the Western anime audience suffers from, since the majority of us cannot access or read Japanese news sources. This, along with other hurdles like the difficulty of remembering hundreds of Japanese names, is what causes many anime fans to leave most things on a succinct studio basis.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Not only are these studios collections of the like-minded, but they also guide their employees. If an anime is successful, studios are wont to make more like it. Thus we see many studios producing anime akin to their previous works, even if the staff of these anime differ vastly. Many studios have gained personalities because of their tendency to capitalize on what has worked for them in the past. Kyoto Animation is one of the best examples of this, seeing as they’re renowned as the embodiment of the moe genre.
So the belief that studios should be treated as holistic bodies is neither right nor wrong; it really depends on the situation. Which brings me back to my previous post and my prejudice for A-1 Pictures. My disapproval was shaped as I watched more and more of their anime, and was later heightened by discovering that some major content creators such as Digibro also have this vision. The ‘A-1 protagonist’ is what I named the superficial isekai/harem protagonists we see in a decent amount of A-1’s productions, but whether A-1 is truly to blame for this is something I have now come to question.
You see, AnoHana and The Anthem of the Heart are two A-1 productions that share much of the same staff, which explains their resemblance to one another. But Sword Art Online, Saekano and Oreimo, the three shows of which I matched the protagonists to Hiro, don’t share any plot-deciding staff members (director, storyboard, script etc.). On top of this, the mangaka who wrote the original stories are all different people. Did A-1 adapt these manga because their stories were likened to other works of theirs, or is it simply a coincidence that cannot be tied down to the studio? The truth is that, unless one was to come into contact with a notable A-1 employee, there’s no telling.
After writing my post on the A-1 protagonist, I purposefully went on to watch two A-1 productions I hadn’t seen yet: Tsuritama and The Seven Deadly Sins. I enjoyed both—a lot. Neither reminded me much of the other A-1 works that I so despise, and it made me see the studio in a new light. These two shows were both made by A-1, but despite this, I feel they’re unfit for comparison to the likes of OreImo, since they don’t share any staff or any story elements. The only common factor between the three shows is the studio that created them.
This really calls into question my previous post, however, in which I exclusively name A-1 characters. The dull isekai/harem protagonist makes frequent appearances in anime by all kinds of studios, but I thought it fitting to only list characters from A-1 anime, since Darling in the Franxx is also an A-1 anime. I now consider this a wrong comparison, not because Hiro doesn’t fit the stereotype, or because the post was very rhetoric – these two are subjective matters. The reason I believe it to be unjust is that there was absolutely no reason to mention A-1 Pictures at all aside from my personal vendetta. If the post’s point was to speculate on how Hiro had me worried, then I could’ve compared him to characters from many non-A-1 anime, the decision to bring A-1 into the picture is what made the post wanting.
Comparison is a powerful tool for writing reviews, criticism, recommendations and the like, but one should be careful when using it. One should be thoughtful when claiming that a studio as a whole is responsible for something. It’s okay to unconditionally love a studio, prejudice and bias are fine, but they must be properly substantiated. Had I known that SAO, Saekano, OreImo and Darling the Franxx have completely different staff, I probably wouldn’t have been as quick to write that post. Learning and keeping track of the many names floating around in the anime industry is a lot of work, and by no means a requirement for being an anime fan, or critic for that matter, but one should always research their declarations, as long as this is done, it should be fair to compare.