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January 2018 Update: Ethics in Anime Journalism

violet evergarden

People like to complain about journalists a lot. Readers routinely vent their frustration at Anime News Network for whatever reason. For example, the latest This Week in Anime column had a vocal minority of people accusing the website for being “insulting and derogatory” because the writers used the word “heteronormative” in an opinion piece.

Of course, there is more to ethics in journalism than picking the “right” side in the culture wars. So I would like to dedicate today’s blog post to some of the ethical concerns I deal with as an anime journalist on a day to day basis.

Any opinions expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the stance of Anime News Network or Crunchyroll.

Dealing with Japanese Corporations

As an international organisation, Anime News Network deals with companies from all over the world. However, since I am a Tokyo correspondent, my personal interactions are mostly with Japanese corporations.

I am not sure if people fully realise how tightly regulated the media is in Japan, especially when it comes to reporting on the entertainment business. Journalists are often not allowed access to an event unless they allow the organisers to read and correct their articles before publication.

This is something that affects my own writing too when I am given press privileges. We even have to submit a Japanese translation of my articles, just for the check. And, yes, I have had to change my content significantly after receiving feedback from the organisers on one occasion.

I imagine that this may be one of the biggest points of differences between journalism in Japan versus the West. Organisers often say that some things can’t be photographed or written about in order to protect individuals or to avoid “spoiling” certain surprises that were intended only for the audience who paid to get into the event.

The same thing applies when you interview somebody. An organiser has to read and approve your questions before you ask them. There are lots of taboo questions; sometimes, certain topics are stated beforehand to be taboo, and other times, you have to follow your common sense and intuition.

After getting used to how things work in Japan, I actually experienced a minor “culture shock” at the Tokyo Game Show when I saw how blunt some of the American journalists were, very likely to avoid getting the stereotypical PR non-answers. Some of the questions they asked game developers were borderline rude in my eyes. So it’s a matter of perspective.

Dealing with corporations means walking a tightrope all the time. Journalists are not obliged to provide free advertising for corporations even though we rely on them for access to information. Whenever I get press access into an event, I try to keep the wording of my articles as neutral as possible.

saber

This Fate/Extra Last Encore article is an example of an article of mine that was checked before publication. As you can see, it is pretty innocuous stuff. This matches the content of the event itself, which was essentially just a promo for the anime. However, I avoided repeating the standard PR lines in favour of making the article about the insights the voice actors shared about their acting. First and foremost, I strive to make content that is interesting for the readers.

Writing for Crunchyroll

Writing for Crunchyroll Features is a different matter. I am writing for a streaming company that wants to promote its shows. For understandable reasons, the editors try to keep negative criticism of shows to a minimum.

However, this does not mean that there is a conspiracy among Crunchyroll Features writers to shill Black Clover, which is something people accuse me of whenever I say something nice about it. Writers can pick and choose which topics to write about, so if you don’t have anything positive to say about a show, then… don’t write about it. It’s that simple. Crunchyroll has such a huge catalogue of shows that no writer has ever been pressed to write about shows they don’t like or appreciate in some way. And it is the personal opinion of many writers (myself included) that we write our best pieces about thing that we like and are passionate about.

Having said that, it should be clear enough that Crunchyroll is not the place to go to if you want incisive criticism of shows they stream (or even the shows they don’t stream). I advise you to go to other websites for that.

Reviewing at ANN

I have the most editorial freedom writing reviews for ANN. Corporations do not have any sway over a reviewer’s opinion. Period.

There’s a different kind of ethical issue I come across whenever I review things on ANN, however, and that’s the issue of piracy. Almost everything I review is not legally available in the United States at the time of publication. Most of them will eventually be available, which is why there’s demand for a review, but the issue is when pirated versions of the content are easily available online. A review on a popular website may be seen as an “encouragement” to pirate. This is the reason why there’s no issue with me reviewing films, which don’t get a disc release until months later, while TV shows are a grey area.

Violet_Evergarden_Anime

Ordinarily, a popular Netflix exclusive show may get a “check-in” review covering the first few episodes (as we did with Kakegurui and Fate/Apocrypha last year), but it won’t get covered on an episode-to-episode basis. Violet Evergarden is an unusual case, given that it’s not simulcasting in the US, but it is streaming in enough English-speaking territories to warrant episode reviews.

When I took up the episode reviews of Violet EvergardenI did initially worry that I might face some harassment from angry fans, seeing that some of them had been sending angry emails to my editor about it. But fortunately, that has not been the case. The forum does have some responses from people who openly admit to pirating the show, but there’s not much that can be done about individual cases of piracy. There’s more to the English-speaking world than the United States, and those fans do deserve a place to analyse and discuss the most popular of this season.

On that note, I hope you are enjoying my Violet Evergarden reviews! It is my first time doing episode reviews, and I think it has been turning out well so far. A review of episode 4 should be out tomorrow — and hopefully not too late since I am currently in the process of moving house.

Anyway, I hope this post gives you a rough idea about what I actually do as a journalist. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, although I am not at liberty to answer everything. For now, I’ll just list every piece I’ve written this month that wasn’t mentioned above.

Crunchyroll

Why You Should Watch “The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!”

Boy Meets Girl in The Silver Guardian

Anime News Network

C93: The Corporate Booths Reveal How Anime is Now Mainstream

The Best Animated Films from Japan in 2017

Design Festa Gallery: Mermaids and Prayers on a Star

Review: Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! Take On Me

Interview: Yuichi Terao, Chief of Ufotable’s Digital Team

The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide: Violet Evergarden

Macross’s 35th Anniversary at the Tokyo Skytree Shows Off Brand New Animation

Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection

40 Years of Space Invaders Descends Upon Roppongi

Recovery of an MMO Junkie Voice Actors Discuss Meaning of Anime’s Title at Radio Show Live Recording

Governor Koike Attends Sword Art Online AR Event in Akihabara

English Light Novels

Guest Review: My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World (Vol. 1-7)


Additionally, I helped provide some questions for this interview with the producer and director of Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Plus, I was the ANN staff member whom Klab shared details with about their global release of the Uta no Price-sama mobile game. Boy, I sure was busy this month…

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Posted on January 31, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Cool article! Nice to hear a pro’s perspective on these matters! The only quibble I have is when you say not to go to Crunchyroll for incisive criticism on shows—and I say this more as a writer than an editor! I don’t personally consider “criticism” to only mean negative critiques, but to apply to any kind of critical analysis. And that, definitely, is something we put out a reasonable amount of at Crunchyroll (thinking of Bobduh’s Why It Works column and the other theme or analysis piece people write for us). So while you won’t find heavy criticism of something on CR (and I’d actually argue you don’t find a ton of that on ANN either), there definitely is some high-quality criticism happening there, not just a bunch of fluff.

    I may be somewhat biased, but again as I say, I speak more from my perspective of a writer on the team than an editor.

  2. Interesting! I happen to be an intern editor for an e-magazine in Canada, and I always have to send all my drafts to the people I interviewed for fact-checking. Thank goodness there aren’t that many ethical issues (or perhaps I’ve just been playing it safe most of the time), but the people I interview (primarily artists) edit things so heavily. They really nitpick about wording and connotations, on top of the usual fact-checking.
    It was super interesting reading your comparisons between different cites! Journalism can be a tough job.

  3. There’s definitely this struggle, this wrestling, that occurs between journalists/writers and the readers. And while it runs both ways, generally the readers are the ones to put all sorts of expectations upon the writers, generated from their own perspectives and experiences, the latter of which usually does not include professional writing.

    There’s usually no filter that allows only readers who THINK before they comment and are MATURE enough to be able to converse about writing and have enough PERSPECTIVE to question but understand they may be wrong come through. And while that’s generally a good thing, it causes many headaches—I’m sure more for one who makes a livelihood a journalist through sites that invite commentary (and lots of it).

    Stay strong and keep doing your awesome work!

  4. Mmm, bit irked on the American games journalism part – that’s how I feel we have to approach things to get answers, especially for posts that’ll stand out among the huge amount competition.

    What were examples of questions that seemed rude?

    Fun story: I once asked a developer a question related to something secret and he almost answered/slipped and replied “ahhh ha, you almost got me! ;)”

    • That was another wording mistake of mine. I should have mentioned that I felt that the American journalists were being more direct to avoid PR non-answers. I’ll add that to the post.

      As for a question that surprised me for being too direct, there was one journalist who asked about the Naruto and Boruto: Shinobi Striker game with a preamble about how an almost purely online fighting game experience will hurt the game’s reception, and then asked why that was a choice the developers made. I get why the question was asked but I felt bad for the developer.

  5. Hi Froggy, sorry this is only tangentially related to your post, but how long do you think you will continue doing journalism in Japan (within the foreseeable future)?

    I’m planning a three-week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hokkaido this summer, and if you have some time I’d like to message you about things. It has been a while, in any case.

    • Oh sure! I’ll definitely still be in Japan by then. Feel free to send me emails or twitter DMs and whatnot. Do you want to meet up when you’re in Tokyo?

      • For some reason I never received your reply until now… Unfortunately, I’ve already returned to Canada, but I’ll be looking forward to possibly meeting next time I’m in Japan.

        It has been quite a while since we’ve talked, so how have you been doing? Personally, having just graduated high school and gotten back from my trip to Japan, I’ve been pretty lost in life. Honestly, it feels surreal that just two years ago I was messaging you about tips for getting into J>E translation and starting a blog as a 高校1年生, haha. And now, even though I have achieved some level of competency in Japanese, it’s a bit sad to think that neither of those dreams have gone anywhere despite me never having strayed away from my desperate pursuit of either of them.

        If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to, look forward to posts to come on my blog! I’ve recently been in the mood for writing posts unedited, so please excuse any questionable material…

  6. Man, that’s something i have to keep in mind for future endeavors.

    In your opinion, would you think it better for a “would-be journalist” (not really my goal, but that’s what people may view it as) to find financial support in donations or with an actual job with a site/company? Or both? I’m genuinely curious because i want to write about my passion for anime, but not have to worry about censoring my opinions. I understand this depends on where i take my writing and will make sure to base my decision from there. I like the little stuff i do now and hope to make a decent living, if not a little side money, from this.

    Anyhow, good post. Tells me what i need to know about the journalism industry if i continue to pursue this career.

    • Well, the reality is, most anime journalists are freelancers. So they find gigs at various different sites and publications but aren’t necessarily attached to any single employer. I feel that there is more job security in having a salaried position, but some people enjoy the freedom that comes with freelancing.

      Either way, if you’re looking for writing opportunities, you need to pitch to various outlets. Keep up your blog, too, as you can use it for writing samples to show potential employers. And there’s nothing wrong with accepting donations from loyal readers.

  7. Sonic Firestorm

    You will have to forgive me when I say that I don’t find your argument, that there is “…no issue with [you] reviewing films” because “there’s demand for a review”, but that for TV series, a review would constitute as “an ‘encouragement’ to pirate”, convincing in the least. Since you’re dealing with ethics in anime journalism here, a part of that ethics means being fair to your readers and for your part, ensuring that your discussions are something they have familiarity with. Writing about TV series encourages this discussion because everyone has access to the same materials – we watch our shows on Crunchyroll, Funimation and Netflix, for instance. However, the same does not apply for movies: you have a distinct advantage over English-speaking viewers by being in Japan, and a minimum gap of a six months separates us from anime movies. Your reviews end up being the only source of information about a movie for at least half a year while everyone else waits for the home release.

    Thus, when taken together with the rather dubious notion that reviewing something promotes piracy, I get the sense that your ethics in anime movie reviews isn’t about piracy, but rather, about leveraging your advantage to monopolize a particular perspective on an anime movie. Under the guise of preventing piracy, you are really saying that you prefer reviewing anime movies because for a good time frame, you can control the narrative and go unchallenged. With a TV series airing, viewers can draw their own claims because they’ve seen it, making you work more to make your opinions stick. This issue isn’t present in movies, and this makes your opinions a bit more influential because you are the first to review it. Do you worry that there are people out there with writing capabilities equal to (or even exceeding) yours who won’t be so easily swayed?

    There is an inherent danger in this arrangement: your Non Non Biyori Vacation review is an example. You claim that the movie is characterized by an “inability to sell its big emotional moments” and that it’s “a watered-down experience from the TV series”. While you may have disliked the movie for your reasons, it is not in your place to write a review that may influence other readers in the knowledge that this review cannot be challenged until the home releases come out. Had someone disagreed with you in September 2018, when you wrote this review, you could have dismissed them by asking if they’d seen the movie or not. Since the home releases, other writers have begun presenting their own take on things, and their opinions differ dramatically than yours. One review stood out to me: the author takes the pains of highlighting what lessons can be learnt from this film and what the film’s contributions are to the series, as well as what makes the movie stand out from the manga. I strongly suggest you read this review in full as an example of what good writing looks like: the review I linked to should be the one at ANN, it’s that well-done. Your review on Gundam Narrative is similarly disappointing, and it is a shame that there will be a ways to go before other viewers can offer alternative perspective to yours.

    On the topic of ethics in anime journalism in the realm of anime movies, you have fallen very short. If you wanted to be counted as someone adhering to good ethics, you would wait until the home releases for an anime movie were released before writing about it. Then, other viewers can take their experiences and use that to form their own judgement of a film. This promotes fair discussion, which I would imagine is the objective at ANN. If anything, by reviewing a movie (often in a negative and dismissive light) before anyone has a chance to watch it, you are actively encouraging piracy. Alternatively, steer clear of the genres you appreciate less: I’ve seen your writing, and you are significantly weaker, to the point of losing your professionalism, when you write negative reviews.

    • Thanks for the comment. And thanks for linking the Non Non Biyori post; it is a nice piece.

      To be honest, I only do reviews because I’m told to do them. One thing I should mention is that I typically don’t have a choice about what to review, and when possible, I try to get out of it by outsourcing the task to someone else. That person is usually Richard Eisenbeis lol. It’s not my intent at all to monopolise the popular opinion of something, which is why I’m often relieved when other people do the reviews.

      One workaround we’ve found when it comes to discussion is to repost the reviews when the films finally come out in English. It’s interesting to see people come in and have a discussion about it after that they’ve had the chance to see it. Sometimes, there are people who say they disagree with my opinion, while there are others who say they agree. It’s the same sort of thing you’d find with any other review on the internet. It’s impossible to please everybody or represent every possible viewpoint in a review, especially so when I’m one of the first people to write about it in English. I can assure you that I’m merely stating personal opinions and I’m not trying to mislead or sway other people in any way.

      As for the piracy angle, I don’t see how a review being negative could influence piracy more than a positive review. If anything, a glowing review would increase hype, wouldn’t it? As for the advice to stay clear of genres I appreciate less, unfortunately I can’t do that because it’s my job to watch even the films that I don’t like. A review site with no negative reviews at all would be more problematic, ethically speaking. What I can do is point out the good things even in a film I didn’t like, but once again I can’t please everybody.

  1. Pingback: [Links] 31 January - 6 February 2018: NHK and LGBTQ+ representation, Netflix and piracy, and #BlackGirlMagic - Anime Feminist

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