I’m always loathe to write non-review posts because I feel that they’re like navel gazing: disconnected from actually enjoying anime. They also bring me out of my comfort zone of critical and analytical thinking, which can only be a good thing right?
Digression, must stop. As if a post about how I write about anime (which itself I’ve had to write) could get any more meta, evidence that I’ve tried and failed before to write about my “process” (air quotes) looms large. But in the same vein as something like The Setup, there’s a voyeuristic pleasure to be gained from peeking into the lives of how other people create.
So here it is, unadorned, how I go from watching to writing about anime. In that order.
The easy part is always going to be watching anime right? After... *stares off into the far distance* close to twenty years, I’ve found it anything but. It was when I first started with the exceedingly limited Manga Entertainment releases (my VHS copy of the Guyver series is still in a cupboard somewhere). Even my University anime club was comparatively stress-free because with two meetings a week, we could tackle longer series like Gundam Wing, while still getting introduced to barn-burners like Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne (and Argento Soma, rose tinted spectacles off…). But then the internet and fansubs blossomed and suddenly choice was the main problem.
In my time blogging anime, I’ve probably burned out twice to a greater or lesser degree from trying to follow the releases of the latest season. Even though the majority of my 2009-2010 posts - my blog’s “golden age” - do exactly that, trying to keep up with everyone else be that bloggers, commenters or friends, is a losing battle. My last break from anime happened because I tried to watch Haganai which filled me with a deep sense of loathing towards anime that I don’t think I shed until I started actively watching again in late 2013.
It was then that I made a rule for myself: “no more than two episodes of a series per day.” In effect, a no marathoning rule. It was an attempt to combat the lack of retention from charging through a show in such a short space of time, for me this was no clearer than with A Certain Scientific Railgun. When it came to watching the second season, reading my review made me feel like someone else must have written it, I could remember that little of it.
The knock-on effect of that rule however was that if I wanted to spend any length of time watching anime, I needed to have a variety in store. As I’ve since found out, variety is supremely important to staying interested in anime. I try and have at least one of each of the major “food groups” on the go at any one time - light comedy, iyashkei, mecha, magical girl, art house, anything else. So if I don’t feel like watching teenagers beat the snot out of each other in giant robots, light comedy it is. Tired of magical girls? Offbeat art house sorts that out. Likewise picking shows from different seasons, different decades can provide a nice palette cleanser to whatever concept is in vogue at the moment.
More tangibly, making a place to watch anime that wasn’t in front of my computer (lord knows I spend enough time there) proved to be another key to staying “in” anime. I had watched everything on a mini-PC (Acer Revo R3610) hooked up to a 32 inch TV, but when fansubs moved to 10-bit colour depth, the little low-power-machine-that-could, now couldn’t.
Nowadays I have a room dedicated to anime. Well, to everyone else I call it a “cinema room”, but anime gets the most screentime. The projector is an Epson EH-TW6100, the screen a Duronic EPS119/169 (264cm x 147cm or 8.7ft by 4.8ft), the receiver is a Denon AVR-1910 with 5.1 Q-Acoustic 1010i speakers. The computer is a custom monstrosity, Intel i5 3470T in a Streacom FC8 EVO case.
I used to not write anything about a series until I had finished it, my belief being that any thoughts I had about a single episode were about as useful as thoughts about a chapter in a book. Presently I tend to make notes in a Google Doc. These rarely comprise more than a few words, but if I come up with an especially astute title, that’s usually the time it arrives.
I pop anything I’ve finished into a “Watched” folder that doubles as a grab bag for what I can write about at any given time. When I committed to a schedule of two blog posts a week it had the side effect of divorcing me from the “must be first” timeliness trap that a lot of anime blogs seem to aim for, especially since Omni and his lightning fast posts departed Random Curiosity. That mentality probably burned me out just as much as my choice of seasonal anime, and moving away from it meant that I no longer felt discomfitted by posting about a show that wasn’t airing this season.
Not being the first to write about something means you can benefit from other people’s thoughts. Lately I’ve found, especially with popular series like Shingeki no Kyoujin, Kill La Kill and just recently Log Horizon, being able to read and indirectly respond to other people’s insights is enormously rewarding. Certainly not the tainting of my opinion that I once assumed reading other people’s reviews would incur.
Regardless, my process for writing has remained largely the same since I started:
- Generate screenshots of each episode: I usually go for 250 for 24 minutes, longer episodes (OVAs etc.) I multiply up from that
- Using IrfanView, go through each screenshot from each episode and delete any unusable ones. This is when I write the majority of my notes as it’s akin to rewatching the series (in my mind!). For a 12 episode show this usually takes a couple of hours and, depending on animation quality, results in between 100 and 140 usable screenshots per episode. If possible I’ll try and have the series’ soundtrack on the go as well for that extra sense of immersion
- Write. In the same Google Doc as I took notes in, I try and write as much as possible without stopping. By this point the structure of my review is usually fully formed: the points I want to touch on, how to flow from one to the next etc. When I naturally get stuck, taking a break helps - walking or something mundane away from a screen are the most effective
- Editing. I have become noticably lax with my editing as of late, especially so if I write and edit on the same day. Re-reading some of my posts the day after I post them often makes me wince a little with embarrassment. When you self-edit enough - effectively cage-fighting your prose - your subsequent writing naturally improves because of it
- Assets. Sorting through the screenshots for each episode, I pull out any that might work in a post. Depending on the visual quality of the anime, this can produce a shortlist of anywhere between 30 to 300 screenshots. From that shortlist I’ll select the final few - for a twelve episode series this is about 14 shots - and their presentation, be that slideshow, one or four thumbnails. Any other screenshots I find amusing or illustrate a point go in as well. I chronically misjudge how long this part takes which can be upward of several hours
- Final pass. The last chance to catch anything egregiously wrong with a post. My most common mistake is not re-reading an edited section and missing an obvious mistake
- Run away. I always have something to do after publishing a post, even if it’s just watching anime. My tendency to stew over things I’ve created is totally unhealthy, especially so with stat-porn like Google Analytics just a click away
Sometimes the process changes, such as if I have such an epiphany-level vision of how a review is going to read, I omit screenshot sorting and jump straight to writing. Other times there’s the excruciating period when I’ve finished writing, but haven’t included a - usually minor - point, and for the life of me, I just can’t find the place to splice it in.
Thanks to a limited audience, responses to my posts are few and far between, although when they do come they tend to be especially awesome. As with most social online interactions, I am rubbish at responding to any kind of comment so I either stay silent or self-consciously stumble over myself trying.
I said it would be unadorned yet I still seemed to wander off on tangents throughout. I am aware that this may come off as self-aggrandising (look at all my shiny things!) or somehow preachy but fundamentally this is what works for me. Or at least seems to have worked for the past year. If there’s a final thought I would leave you with, it’s that when you have so much choice - more or less every anime ever produced ready to be downloaded, watched, dissected and stored - willpower is the strongest counter to the contempt and apathy that such indulgence and excess breeds.
I am genuinely interested in how other anime bloggers approach watching and writing about anime - so in a rare show of audience solicitation: let me know in the comments or in a post of your own how you go about this blogging malarkey.