Operation British, Phase Two: Casey Brienza, you should be ashamed

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.”

We suspect we don’t need to qualify my stunned reaction to her review of Overman King Gainer to the type of person who actually reads Colony Drop. (Besides, Dave already did that.)

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.

19 Comments

  1. This post was made even better after reading the most recent Answerman…


    But that’s neither here nor there. The internet is a place for zealous and overzealous fans alike to shout their opinions louder than the other, which of course is the ultimate way to decipher who is actually Right and Correct. How about instead of worrying about who hates shounen and who hates shoujo, we instead hate the loudmouth butthole nerds on places like 4chan that confuse being bitter and contrary with having a valid opinion on something? Let’s just do that.

    Pot, kettle, etc

  2. Ahh, Casey Brienza. Why is it that ANN and the rest of anime journalists are all such fucking cronies? When is talent going to have any merit in deciding who gets paid-for writing privileges?

  3. You can’t really complain about differences in opinion. No reviewer is impartial, and if you don’t like their tastes or opinion there’s bound to be one you do like. “I disagree with these three things, plus this bad thing, therefore this writer is crap.”

    Besides, Tezuka isn’t a god and is sometimes dated, the Japanese DO fetishize black people, and there are worse series that get by on pretty boys.

  4. “Besides, Tezuka isn’t a god and is sometimes dated, the Japanese DO fetishize black people,”

    Fair enough, Tezuka definitely is dated at times and definitely is not a god. The review referenced in this article however seems to assume he is a god considering the reviewer dings a grade from Astro Boy for being dated in style and presentation. Apparently she assumes Tezuka can rise from the dead and travel through time to revise his work.

    There are pretty horrific depictions of black people in manga (Tezuka even(, but Me and the Devil Blues is definitely not one of them. Akira Hiramoto does not draw monstrous lips or lusting over watermelons and obviously researched his subject. Should he be penalized because of other creators’ ignorance? Because the assumption in the review seems to be that depicting racism is racist.

  5. Visitors, I think maybe you missed what our point was. Sure, part of it was to laugh at some of what we consider Ms. Brienza’s sillier reviews, but it’s not like we’re upset this time because we think she has bad taste. Indeed, her reviews usually either miss the point so dramatically they’re funny, or end up being informative as the average Colony Drop writer’s tastes are pretty much exactly the opposite of hers. We welcome different views, even if we think they’re wrong.

    What we’re mad about is that this is not a review. There is no insight to be gained by reading this for anyone, fan or otherwise. It’s a summary with some marketing-friendly commentary on its popularity attached. There’s no commentary on how the events fit into the picture as a whole, or even if the events are actually interesting or not. We’re mad because this was posted as a professional review on a site with some modicum of professionalism. If Ms. Brienza really couldn’t think of anything to actually say about the content of these volumes (and whatever we think about her opinions, her other reviews show she’s certainly not incapable of analyzing what she reads), she has no business submitting a review for it, and ANN certainly has no business publishing it as a review.

    Hell, some of the comments by ANN’s forum posters show more critical thinking and insight than this review, by an astounding margin.

  6. All the intellectual bases have already been covered, so I’ll play the mouth-breather angle here and say that I couldn’t even make it through the Zabuza arc of the Naruto manga without rolling my eyes. Emo ninja in track suits and/or flak jackets just aren’t for me, I guess.

    Kakashi is the only remotely likeable character I’ve yet encountered in my limited experience with Naruto, if only for the fact that he recognizes the three teenage leads as the unlikeable little twerps that they are. No small irony, then, that he seems poised to defy contemporary shonen conventions and actually stay dead.

    As for ANN publishing a glorified press release as a “review”…well, on the one hand, it kind of reflects the intellectual level that Naruto tends to attract. (That being enamored and hyperactive children and manchildren who look at you like you’re their senile grandmother when they start babbling on about Akatsuki and Itachi and what an obnoxious emo cunt a dark and intriguing character Sasuke is. Everyone’s reading Naruto, after all!) It’s the logical procession to corporate shill that most prominent anime sites follow. On the other hand, even professional cynics like we of Colony Drop can’t help but wish they’d do at least a little better.

    The encyclopedia’s still nice, though.

    And in the interest of full disclosure, my guilty shonen pleasure is still One Piece.

  7. I was googling her name to see if this post shows up on the first page (it does) and apparently, she’s a Fullbright Scholar and regarded as a “manga expert.”

    Which begs the question, why is she writing rubbish “reviews” like this?

  8. >>apparently, she’s a Fullbright Scholar and regarded as a “manga expert.” Which begs the question, why is she writing rubbish “reviews” like this?”

    That could be the problem, academic types don’t seem to do very well outside their natural habitat… Ever read Samurai from Outer Space?

    Maybe I can snag a copy of the journal articles she’s done, they might sit better with me.

  9. What makes all of Casey Brienza’s reviews so absolutely confounding is not that she dislikes all the things I like and vice versa; though she does those things, she’s certainly entitled to that. It’s that her justifications and reasoning as to WHY she thinks what she does are sparsely presented at best, and what little is there makes me wonder if we even watched the same thing at all. I can never quite shake the feeling when reading her non-BL reviews that she just looked up general plot/series data from the Internet and possibly watched a few pictures/clips before writing her review. It’s because of stuff like this that I generally read everything on ANN except for the reviews.

    Also, as she is a graduate student she really should know to not get facts about series from Wikipedia, because sometimes the Wikipedia entry is inaccurate. I noticed she did that during her recent Shin Mazinger Z writeup. I know that sort of thing is to be expected on the Internet and that since she’s a dyed-in-the-wool fujoshi it’s understandable she not really know about or care to learn about anything not fujoshi-friendly enough. But regardless of short deadlines or college assignments, this is her job. There’s no good reason for what she writes to be roughly the same quality as the reviews on MAHQ.net when she’s getting paid and they’re not.

    Then again, who am I to talk? Most times when I review something, I forget to actually talk about the show itself outside of a paragraph or two.

    PS: STUPID SITE DOESN’T PERMIT LINKS IN COMMENTS.

  10. The standard for professional Japanese cartoon reviewing is so low, sometimes I wonder why I do it for free. I mean, they let Wildarmsheero write for Otaku USA now! Surely I should be getting a piece of that action!

    Oh, right, I’m taking a month to write 1,000 words about Michiko e Hatchin. I guess that is a problem, huh?

    Daryl: Yeah, for some reason, right now we have to edit links into the posts after they’re made. We’re fixing that, since we manually approve every comment anyway.

  11. Okay, I finally figured out how to allow links in the comments, but it works now. See!

    I think as much as it reflects poorly upon her professionalism when writing half-assed reviews like this, it reflects worse upon the editors at ANN who approve the reviews for publication.

  12. But guys, guys. I think of it this way.

    A normal, reasoned, negative statement about Honey and Clover that we won’t pay attention to when it appears on the internet: These jokes aren’t funny, I don’t like any of these people, and Hagu creeps me out.

    Option B: THIS IS MISOGYNIST TRASH, UMINO IS A DISGRACE TO THE GENDER AND OUGHT TO HAVE HER OVARIES TORN OUT

    Which is More Dangerous? You have to view every Brienza review as a potential comedy megahit. Sometimes– rarely– they’re as fair and reasoned as anybody else. But most of the time it’s all fan bias and misconceptions and preconceptions and logic so tortured it’s worthy of Koike. I dunno about you, but that shit entertains me.

  13. Another thing is that ANN reviewers, review moé and adult BL, but not H, because they “have more plot”. I read it on the site itself.

    That’s more confusing then comedic…

  14. That’s the Internet for you… it gives an international platform and apparent authority to those who shout loudest or longest, or will work for free, or will please the lowest common denominator, or all three. It also means that intelligent, original discussion can get out there too.

    if you put out intelligent, original discussion as against lollipops for the easily swayed, you can’t really expect to have the widest appeal. All you can do is keep putting out your best stuff and hope that the process of evolution will work in your favour.

    Nobody said it was easy having a brain.

  15. @Ben [Member]
    I agree with your opinion about ANN and their professionalism. However, I do disagree with your view of Naruto and it’s readers. If you don’t like Naruto that is fine but your belittling view of it’s readers is quite atrocious. Your comments characterize you as an unsightful individual with distasteful criticism. While Naruto isn’t perfect its entertaining and creative in its own right.

  16. I forgot to mention that I strongly agree with this post from Colony Drop Staff. Casey Brienza and several other ANN’s staff members lack logic and sensibility in their reviews and critiques.

  17. Correction.
    “Your comments characterize you as an individual that lacks insight with distasteful criticism.” Sorry about that XD

  18. What is “insight with distasteful criticism,” and why would anyone want it in the first place?

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