Making the Grade

3 minute read

Out with the old and in with the new… Rather than cut and paste my old blog posts into the new system, this is the opportune moment to revisit and polish them up. First up is a look into how I grade review titles and my thoughts on reviewing in general. To be perfectly clear up front, what follows is only how I grade reviews; other reviewer’s mileage may vary.

The grading scale used for all AoD reviews is the letter grade system; an A+ is the best grade a title can receive, and F is the worst. When I review a title, the story is the most important aspect in determining what grade the title receives. The animation and audio do have a role in determining the overall grade, but no amount of flashy animation or powerful audio can compensate for a shoddy plot. A title that does not tell a good story is not going to receive a good grade.

To receive an "A", a title has to "get it right"; it has to combine the visual and aural elements with an entertaining and engaging story. This is a title that I have to personally own and is expected to provide the same level of enjoyment when it is pulled off the shelf five to ten years later. I set the bar very high for an "A", and few titles ever manage to clear it. Those have cleared the bar have received a lot of replay over the years.

Average titles usually receive a "B" with B+ being slightly better than average and B- being slightly less than average. These are titles that are entertaining enough to watch again but are not a priority to buy. Usually, they are titles that I will rent if the urge to watch them strikes me rather than take up shelf space. Anything C+ or below… well, I try not to think about those titles ever again.

If this reviewing style sounds subjective, you are spot on because it is subjective. The subjective nature of reviews has caused debate occasionally. Some people feel that reviews have to be objective and free from opinion. If the item being reviewed is something tangible like an automobile, they have a valid point; the car’s merits can be reviewed from a purely objective point of view. One can compare it to other available models and measure its performance measured against them.

However, reviewing something intangible, be it art, music, or anime, it is impossible to remain objective when approaching it. Who you are as a person has a direct bearing on your viewing experience; each person has their own set of tastes developed by what they have read, viewed, etc. over the years. The key for a reviewer is to consistently explain how each content review is influenced by their own tastes. A reviewer’s body of work should be a roadmap to their tastes and how those tastes have changed.

It is (relatively) easy to do this when writing the content portion of a review; you can cite examples from the story and elaborate on why this made the title more or less attractive to you. Yet, how do you distill this information into a quantifiable number, letter, or other notation? I find this is to be the hardest part of the reviewing process, and no amount of leeway between levels would change this. If we did not use letters, then the mental debate would be "Do I give this a 4? A 4.5? 4.25? 4.1123458705?".

The final grade usually comes down to a gut reaction; how much did I enjoy this title while watching it? How does it stack up against other titles I have watched? Initially, I would give a title a grade right after viewing it; however, I have found that waiting at least an hour before even thinking about a grade (unless the title really hit or miss with me) makes for a more accurate grade. While there is still some waffling, I put down the grade I think is appropriate, and it soon becomes etched into the virtual stone.

What I would urge everyone when reading a review, be it mine, Chris’, or any other reviewer on AoD or anywhere else, is to go back and read other reviews by that person. That little letter, star, thumb, what have you at the top of a review is meaningless unless you understand what the reviewer enjoys and how that shapes his perception.