This piece was a long-time coming. The nugget of realization came early, but realizing what exactly bothered me took some more time. For those who don’t know, back in 2009-2010 this blog had regular content about anime figurines, including a few figure reviews. The topic of what to provide in my post, and the nature of how I perceive most blogs at the time to handle their take on mass-produced content also carried to why this blog doesn’t really have episodic content, and certainly didn’t in the past.
Look at a fan’s review of a figure, what do you see? You see them taking shots of the box in which the figure arrives, you see them unpacking said box, and then you see numerous shots of the figure that’s being reviewed. You might not get “unboxing the box”, but for most such reviews, that’s what you’re going to get. So, what’s the problem? Well, there isn’t exactly any problem, but head over to YouTube, search for a review of a gaming mouse, keyboard, or even a food processor, and you’ll see more or less the exact same thing.
That’s still not a problem, it just means that all these items are presented the same way, right? Well, here’s where we’re getting to the problem – it’s a culture of mass-producing “reviews” of mass-produced items. And like all mass-produced items, there’s not much to differentiate the items, both the products being reviewed, and as a result, the reviews themselves.
I mean, how many reviews which are mostly photographs, or unpacking of material do I need? Any number of bad ones, or one good one. I browse YouTube until I find just one that fits my purposes. If I need to know how loud a mechanical keyboard’s switches are, I might listen to a couple. But when I want to see what a figure looks like, I only need one review, and even that is just because the promotional photographs are often of prototypes, and may have different seams (more seams, or less seams).
Which brings us to the thing I’ve always found so interesting, the unboxing, and pre-unboxing. The box doesn’t really matter. When it comes down to it with most products, once we take the object out of the box we toss it away. When it comes to collectors’ items such as figures, the box is part of the object’s “purity”, and part of the consideration of price should we resell it. The box isn’t just an afterthought, but it stands for how much the item means, and in turn shares its “sacred light”. It’s the epitome of fetishism, what should be trash is considered important.
But then, in figure reviews, we got to the stage where not only the box the item comes with is reviewed, which might be important so one could identify bootlegs, but even the post-office generic brown box in which the item is received is displayed. Why is that? The item arriving to us is made to appear as if it’s the conclusion of a journey, and so we respect it by referencing that long and arduous process. Even the display of the item is teased, as we slowly undress it from all of its exterior layers of superfluous packaging.
But it’s more than that, and that’s something that took me a while to notice. Why do people post their own older figures, often nenodoroids (chibi versions) with the new figures? It’s part of the attempt to make the review their own. Yes, one’s skill with photography which one can train at certainly plays a hand, but the figure is the figure – so what can be changed is what surrounds it. The nendoroid is your attempt at delivering a joke, metaphorically, before reading from the script. Likewise, the generic brown box isn’t merely fetishizing the content found within (though it’s also doing that), but it stands for the journey the figure made to you.
And yet, at some point you notice everyone’s doing it, and so the quest for individuality had been co-opted by the collective and is yet just one more example of how you’re part of a culture, but the way you manifest yourself is still individualistic.
That’s part of the reason I always focused on my thoughts. Even if there are others with the same thoughts as mine, they’re still my thoughts, and you could come and read them even when you’ve read others’ which do not obviate them. It was the case with figures, and it’s even more so with episodes of anime. There’s no real skill on display when one takes screenshots of an anime, and when you’ve come across one collection, you literally do not need others. Likewise, some writers do not tell you what they thought of an episode, but aim to merely describe what happened. Obviously, said description is mediated by what they think matters, but if you’ve watched the episode you don’t need the reminder, and if you don’t, you’d rather watch it yourself than read it.
So, what purpose do these serve? Well, none really. People come to these places and discuss the show with others who want to discuss it, while the actual screenshots and descriptions are mostly ignored. You could simply write “Show title, episode number” and be done with it. And that is why I focus on what I can bring to the table. Not just because it’s hopefully useful or interesting to people even if they’ve read others’ thoughts, but because it’s also more interesting to read.
It’s interesting, how we seek to illustrate our individualism and in so doing create and then become part of a culture, where our very search for individualism is what makes us part of the whole, and yet, in so doing, while we’re doing what others do, we still display something of ourselves.
Question: What do you look for in reviews? What makes a review interesting?