Anime News Network is often, unfortunately, one of the most important sites for Western Japanese cartoon fandom. They provide a valuable service, translating numerous Japanese-language press releases and reposting them for the easy perusal of filthy gaijin such as ourselves, and their encyclopedia section provides a handy database of credits without all the overly verbose muckity-muck of Wikipedia.
Their editorial content, aside from Justin Sevakis’ and and Todd Ciolek’s columns, leaves a hell of a lot to be desired, however. Zac “The Original Answerman” Bertschy doesn’t seem to have a grasp on when one crosses the line from put-down humor into venom, and his successor to the column, Brian Hanson, generally comes across as meek and wishy-washy, possibly overcompensating in an attempt to differentiate himself. The review staff produce what largely amounts to white noise, evoking little more than a half-hearted shrug. But there is one exception: Casey Brienza.
Brienza seems to have a real knack for missing the point, often to absolutely comedic extremes. We can understand someone not appreciating the very deliberate pacing of the excellent Me and the Devil Blues, the finest Japanese comic on bookshelves that you’re not buying, but to accuse it of approaching a minstrel show, of fetishizing issues of race relations, is simply baffling.
“Painfully slow narrative pacing, silly plot points, and a whiff of unintentional(?) bigotry” are the negatives of the book, she writes. Note how she suggests the possibility that any “bigotry” in the book’s depiction of African-Americans could be intentional rather than stemming from any issue of differing cultural norms.
Osamu Tezuka’s incredibly influential comic Astro Boy gets a harsh reception for selected stories which do not entirely reflect modern perspectives on gender and race. “Read Astro Boy for fun or for history,” says the review tagline, “not for philosophical enlightenment packaged as classic manga.”
And while Brienza has provided numerous other examples of her astoundingly poor taste, allowing the most insultingly written of plots to be excused by the presence of an appropriate number of pretty young men, with this latest review she has truly outdone herself. Not content with her usual mix of pretension, confusion and summary, Brienza has resorted to outright advertisement. Let’s look at her review of volumes forty-two through forty-four of current megahit series Naruto.
It begins straightforward enough: Naruto is a huge hit, Viz’s natural decision to dump that shit on the market while it’s still selling, etc. Then Brienza falls into a trap we’ve seen her get into several times before, which is to make the majority of her review a simple summary of the events of the material. We can’t imagine who would find this useful — the summary makes no allowances for anyone unfamiliar with the now-absolutely tangled plot of the series, since, presumably, you the reader are one of the thousands of people who read the comic religiously. And as a religious reader you’ve likely already read these chapters in scanlation, or you’re about to purchase and read these books regardless. In either case, who is served by devoting a third of the review’s length to such trivialities?
This leaves only one full paragraph to devote to anything remotely approaching analysis or reaction to the work, which is the most interesting part of any of these reviews. But rather than engage in that, Brienza elects instead to praise author/artist Kishimoto’s ability to maintain a “signature style” over the past decade of the series, and draws attention to a few irregularities she chalks up to the influence of assistants.
But it’s the very end of the review that really gets us. We’re just going to quote it outright, and stress that this is verbatim:
All in all, this manga series continues to be great mainstream entertainment. And with plenty of action, mystery, character development, bishounen angst, comedy, and tragedy there is something for virtually everyone. No wonder everyone seems to be reading Naruto these days!
Is this a review, or a fucking press release? A third of the length is spent expounding on what a huge fucking hit Naruto is, and the publisher’s efforts to cash in on this demand, and it ends with a goddamn sales pitch. Not a single critical thought rears its miserable, malnourished head for all 726 words of this review. We know that Anime News Network is not above running obvious advertisement pieces — just look at their coverage of the runaway comedy smash Dragonball Evolution — but it’s disgraceful to see it disguised as editorial content.
Now, as you’ve gathered, we’re not fans of Ms. Brienza’s reviews. Nor are we fans of ANN’s editorial content. But we’ve come to expect a certain level of professionalism from both, seeing as how ANN is one of the largest and most influential professional sites in our miserable hobby, and (presumably) their writers are compensated for their services. That this “review” was written by Ms. Brienza and accepted by the editorial team of ANN reflects incredibly poorly on all parties, especially positioned against actual, thoughtful and well-written reviews in the sidebar. Leave the writing of press release copy to the news staff.