Why I’m Not on MyAnimeList

On the front page of r/anime today, filling the slot of the subreddit’s Daily Salt Thread, is a discussion titled ‘What scores on your MAL would make /r/anime question your taste the most?‘. I could stop here and let that post speak for itself, for why I think MAL and the community it facilitates is what drags down the potential for good, interesting discussions about anime online. But I might as well blog about it too.

There’s an unfortunate rule on r/anime that you can’t post discussions about streaming services or sites like MAL. Because of that, no-one on there is going to be able to question or help anyone else question how the services they use for anime affect what they watch. And there’s no doubt a community affects your view of content, for better or worse, whether you have Digibro’s concerns over elitism, understand Group Dynamics, or can simply observe how, if it’s not how they view it first-hand, it’s how people talk about it online that changes. And until there’s a ‘post your animeplanet’ post, I’m going to limit my complaints to the giant of anime rating aggregation.

She’s as surprised as I am that they’re rating a show they’ve only watched two episodes of

On MyAnimeList’s about page you’ll see what activity is recommended; the place was built intended for ‘fans’ to share their ‘favourites’. But the skew of MAL’s communal rating system coincides with the French translation of its abbreviation as ‘bad’. A 7/10 on MAL is a ‘pass’, and 7/10 reviews, being only a ‘pass’, often read with little enthusiasm and turn out rather negative in tone. Despite this, the margin between a 9 and a 10 is so high for people, who tend to view the 7-10 scale as ‘average – good – great – masterpiece’. Some even argue that a 7/10 is bad because it simply isn’t good. Salt flies when someone gives your favourite show a 7. No! Anything but a 7!

I haven’t done a review since or before Konosuba, but the rating system I introduced there did its best, I hope, to emphasize that ‘average’ – what I call ‘decent’ – is in the middle of my scale. Perhaps it’s the school system that made people view 70% as only just a pass. And perhaps the reason I don’t write many reviews at all is because most read like high school essays that would barely scrape a pass themselves.

One user’s rating system. They ‘tend to rate a majority of anime with a score of 8’.

The majority of MAL’s reviews are abysmally written. In a ‘helpful’ post of guidelines on how to write your review, people are encouraged to start out by ensuring that they cover characters, story, art and sound, and cover them, and even score them, separately if that helps at first. Many reviewers however never stray from this format, and now the fact it’s considered ‘amateurish’ by the author of that guidelines post is a sad joke next to how MAL celebrates and defends artificially dissecting character and story as if they are in any way separable.

We’re also supposed to evaluate ‘enjoyment’ separately from everything else – but what value is there to art, any art, other than how we find pleasure in it? Splicing these things apart only works if you warp your perception of the work away from what the viewer encounters – character, story, music, visuals all together, all constantly affecting each other, all hopefully causing enjoyment. This paint-by-numbers, Ikea-wardrobe-style approach gives every review that uses it a fundamentally poor perspective on what character and story mean for each other. How do we know anything about My Hero Academia’s Deku other than the story being given of him? And how can we rate that story at all without considering the value of Deku?

It’s unnatural to ‘review’, as in ‘view again’, a show in such a dissected manner. It’s like trying to review the shapes and colours of a painting separately. You’re no longer actually reviewing the image that everyone sees, and when you splice ‘character’ out of ‘story’, your ‘story’ section is no longer reviewing the story either, nor your ‘character’ section the characters.

The ‘cold critic corner’ sure is cold when you’re on of the most-liked reviews on the site.

I hasten to say that because so many reviews do this, the reasons I have for highly rating shows like Angel Beats! are rarely voiced. I dislike MAL’s 10/10 reviews on AB! more than I dislike the site’s bitter ‘this show is scum and so are you if you like it’ rants. My opinion isn’t even unpopularly represented; and because all these spoiler-free reviews are so limited in how much they talk about the show itself, most attempts you make to go through something in increased depth get immediately treated as overanalysis. I should have written a paragraph on the characters in Durarara!!, not a whole article! Silly me.

The Ikea approach may be easier for some people, and easier for readers who are used to it on MAL, but it does not help you or the reader see more of or better into what you’re reviewing. They can follow your thoughts better, and so can you, but that’s because you’re hand-holding. The struggle with wrestling with multiple ideas and synthesizing them into concise sentiments is immense, but the pleasure of reading such writing and getting all these compartments of your thinking clearly and at once is what separates a safe style of writing from one that will stir a crowd.

I’d be more on board with these categories if they were disguised under more interesting sub-headings and one spoke to the other. You can start with ‘story’ in order to both outline the material and rate how competently its plot handles itself, and then move on to review the cast based on what they do to with the story. People so readily say art never exists in a vacuum, and yet put ‘characters’ in a vacuum when they review on MAL. And that style then invades blogs and other sites, and already too many think it’s a superior style to look at these things one-by-one just because everyone’s doing it and it’s easy.

It’s even easier to judge people purely based on numbers.

Back to that ‘post your MAL’ post. Back to how, as much as I’m as skeptical as Digi is over how people make their favourites things people will praise them for liking, I think judging taste – not even the people behind the taste, just the taste itself – based on a static list of favourites, whether it’s on MAL or in a 3×3 on 4chan, is the opposite of caring about their opinion. An infinity of discussions get started just because ‘you rated that 10/10, but not Stein’s;Gate? Whaaaaaaaat?’ and other asinine complaints. It goes for community opinion too.

Remember how people found ERASED’s spike in numerical popularity a talking point? I’m not sure how they did, or why MAL let’s you rate stuff as it airs in the first place. It’s meaningless to do and meaningless to discuss, especially since it gets put alongside finished shows that were reviewed and not simply hyped up or beaten down by the community.

I agree with Digi that few people know how to actually rate the anime they watch, but people expect them to have regardless, and so we have a community that on the one hand encourages everyone to have their own subjective rating of a show, and on the other hand gets its kicks out of attacking just those numbers alone because of how they don’t align with the acceptable standard deviation from True Anime Taste™.

And hearing so much about these ‘masterpieces’, I’m as bored of them before I watch them as many high school students are bored of Shakespeare before they’ve read a line from Macbeth. Whenever something is said to be undoubtedly a masterpiece because everyone says its one, not because you’ve understood for yourself the expertise of craftsmanship going into the work, be it anime or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you’ve done more to argue against the quality of the work. If it really is incredible, you can tell me why. Don’t point me to someone else’s review and pretend you felt exactly the same when watching it. Especially when that review divides character and story again.

MAL’s standards for what constitutes a good review, and the perspective the community forces on people of what ‘good’ is  – an 8 or higher in most cases – and what ‘good anime’ specifically are, let alone its garbage dump of a forum, have made me never want to touch the account I made there long, long ago. MAL won’t let you delete your account, however, so my list lies empty as a tombstone for the thought I once had that making a list of all the shows I watched like everyone else was a good idea.

The very notion of being encouraged to go around in life with an ‘I have watched this many shows’ meter, like an opinion-validating experience bar, pisses me off to no end. A new site for critics to join and have their limited pool of opinions aggregated, senpai.co, forces you to go through a ‘taste test’ that registers how many shows you watched and what you thought of them and requires you to ‘pass’ some invisible boundary of good taste to join. Screw. That.

If you want to know my opinion on a particular show, ask me. We can talk about it – my opinion, not some number surrounded by a bunch of other numbers. My wholesale numerical appreciation of anime isn’t something I have to background every thought I have on anime with. And MyAnimeList forces you to do that. And that’s why I’m not on MyAnimeList.





18 thoughts on “Why I’m Not on MyAnimeList”

  1. So your issue with mal is the rating/review system. Well then I can’t find anything wrong with your argument, despite the fact that I love the site.
    For me, it’s more about tracking my own shows, making public where my animals knowledge is, sharing short summaries of my thoughts on a series, and seeing what shows other people I know have watched.
    Never done or read a review there. Never rated a show or cared for a numbered rating. Thus, I avoid the worst part of most sites, the community.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I just never got the need for lists to begin with. Sometimes I think I can remember every show I’ve watched better because I don’t list them. Forces me to list things mentally, and I remember the ones I care about most first. I get how a MAL list is that on your screen, but I don’t get why I have to put that in the background of everything I do anime-wise.

      Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched 400+ shows. But even if I made a list at that stage, I’d keep it private.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The point, to me, is that I don’t talk about every show I watch. I don’t have enough to say, and even if I did I don’t know who’d like to hear it. But if I have a list, and people know me through my blog, they can see exactly what I’ve seen, and let me know if their is interest in my small thoughts. Not sure how much of a justification that is, though, considering it’s never happened yet.
        On a much shallower level, I kinda enjoy seeing those numbers count up :)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s so much fun to watch the hours I’ve sunk into anime stack up. But I always do have a fear that shallow rating culture will judge me for having only watched 20 days, as Jeko touched on in the article.

          But I think I’m fine with that. I find that the type of people who find “I’ve watched 10,000 more hours than you” as a way to counter my opinion aren’t the type of people worth discussing anime with on the internet. There are plenty of other fans to talk to.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Though there is something to credentials, for a critic, in not necessarily how much you watch, but what you watch.
            For example, if someone reviews Gurren Lagann, and I go to their MAL page and see they’ve also watched Evangelion, Mahoromatic, Nadia, Diacon, and a number of non-Ginax mecha, that means something for their review.
            That being said, boiling all that down to a number of hours watched is worse than boiling the quality of a show down to a number out of ten and not giving the context for that rating.

            Liked by 3 people

  2. I still use MAL for its great database function (*too lazy to make and update my own spreadsheet), and occasionally exchange messages with nice and insightful people. Couldn’t be arsed to keep up with inane userbase drama like the abovementioned Erased debacle, though. Used to practice writing reviews and look for good ones, too… but yeah, that section’s gotten unbearably bad now. And the less said about the forum, the better.

    Like most things, rating (or the act of assigning quantitative values to something) isn’t inherently bad. I find it useful for personal comparative reference, and from a writing perspective, it’s an occasionally helpful tool to assess a given show’s forming elements and weigh its strengths/weaknesses in a less abstract sense. Problem starts when it’s the only and/or most visible thing you share with others, and when it’s encouraged to such an unhealthy degree that it turns into a dick measuring contest~

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The problem with numerical rating is that it assumes everything is held to one standard. Numbers themselves aren’t bad, because they demonstrate a personal gauge of like/dislike. But rating aggregators like MAL force an objective standard onto what should be subjective shorthands for like/dislike.

    MAL and the anime community have adopted expectations for shows as a result, expectations based in valid human response to art that have since devolved into triggers for liking/disliking a show. Debates over tastes and impressions often feel futile when the other party doesn’t seem to accept the fact that I respond to art differently than they do.

    That said I still upkeep an MAL because its a convenient way to gauge (at a glance) how much my small circle of anime watching friends liked a certain anime. I have touched the forums/reviews 4 times and regretted it each time I did. Its impossible to escape from all MAL spurred “art by number” opinions when you’re active in the community, unfortunately.

    One more random thought: I call my reviews “reviews/reflections,” because while I seek to appraise the anime in question, I only do so as far as my personal enjoyment of it, and strive to explain what I found wonderful and why I think it is effective in appealing to human emotion. I think such a spoiler free “review” of a show is a nice way to show others what I thought about a particular anime, and what sort of things they might expect heading into an anime they haven’t seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I find myself saying 4/5 to a friend and they come back and say ‘no it’s a 5/5 for sure!’ and we just chat about it casually because we understand each other’s personal standards. Expanding that into the whole public arena, MAL loses a lot of the point of casually rating stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I generally use MAL recommendation references, and to track my own watchlist. I do personally rate them but those numbers are only helpful to me as a macro-indicator of what my personal preferences for myself, and never really to genuinely evaluate how good a show is.

    Perhaps I contribute to the problem of numerical ratings because my ratings ultimately count, but I don’t sweat it (or think about it too much) because, well, I kind of need the list & rating function for personal use.

    Having said that though, isn’t there the fun in looking at the numbers and comparing against your own view on what an objective rating should be, and what is merely hype or poor taste or a poor mechanism (and perhaps talking to other people about it)? I derive enjoyment from thinking about this stuff, though my theories are probably too nonsensical for me to even think of making them available to the public as any form of ‘educated opinion’, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think infinitely more fun can be had when looking at qualitative thoughts on shows – people’s actual opinions and discussions – than numbers. Because your numbering is only for yourself, you either end up projecting your way of numbering onto other people’s or guessing the overall consensus. Either way, I can’t see it as anything other than having severe disadvantages over interfacing with actual written opinions. It feels like a shortcut to doing that with a minuscule proportion of the insight you can gain.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I use MAL to keep track of my progression in different shows and what to watch next. Moreover, I like having a list I can show to people that they can get recommendations from.
    When you spoke of that garbage forum, I remembered it existed. Yes, just ignore it is my response to it. I went there a few times, there were always people being stupid and aggressive (a combination very common on the internet) and thus I never went back.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. TBH, I only use MyAnimeList to read reviews so I can get a general idea of what’s in a show before I watch it, but I do understand your concerns. But I feel that there still is a place for those full, cold, nearly demeaning dissections of a show’s plot structure an d characters for those who want to know *exactly* what they’re getting. Sometimes it can be helpful, though I would agree that context is key, and that leaving out context when describing characters or plot can harm the review more than help it. In the end though, it’s pretty much up to the viewer to decide if they want to watch an anime or not, and it’s their choice whose voice they listen to. You raise some good points, though, and I do wonder the part that elitism can play in influencing the shows that we watch. Especially when it comes to popular series, like AoT or SAO.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Same ! Just see how many shows are overrated like kimi no na wa ,Uchouten Kazoku ,anohana and so many more……….!!!!!!


  8. I just wanted to use MAL for finding good anime, but it seems like that is impossible because they rate seasons as separate shows, so there are 5 seasons of one show in the top 20 ranked anime on the site. I guess i will just stick to google for finding good anime. There are some pretty good forums out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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