The Controversial Art of Reviewing

Last September I wrote an essay on the “Subtile art of writing a review/commentary” (in French, but it is also available in a machine-translated English version). It is an essay I wanted to write for a long time, explaining how I was approaching the writing of a book or movie review — which I did for twenty years for a magazine. The funny thing is that I discovered a few weeks ago that I had already written that article in 2009 (in English) and forgot about it! I was checking out some old hard drives looking for something and stumble upon this article that I had written for a special issue (PAX #3) of the magazine I was working for, but we stop publication before it was released. It is based on the guidelines I wrote for our staff writers. My views on how to write a review have not change much since then. I thought it would be interesting to share it with the readers of this blog.

Reviewing a media product (wether it is a book, a manga, an anime series or a live-action movie) might seems an easy task, but in reality it is far from being simple. In fact, we are all doing it when we express an opinion to friends, but it is usually done in an emotional and very imprecise manner: “it was so bad, man” or “it was really cool.” In opposition, a professional reviewer—someone who does it for a living—must do his/her best to remain objective, precise and rigorous.

I admit that, if I always try to be an objective and precise reviewer, I am rarely rigorous. I am lazy and tend to keep my reviews short, introducing the subject and expressing my opinion in the most elementary manner. Today everybody is a critic as they can easily post what they think of this or that on their blog , but what makes the appraisal of a professional reviewer more interesting and valuable is experience. I’ve spent about two decades watching videos or films and reading books related to the subjects I review. I have therefore developped a methodology to assess the subject, an understanding of its workings and a set of criteria that—I hope—better equip me to examine and judge a particular media product.

In this article I have attempted to explain how I approach the writing of a review, what I think a review should be and what aspects of a medium I take in consideration when writing a review. I wanted to talked about this for a long time as I think it can offer interesting insights to both our readers and would-be reviewers.

First, there is two types of reviews: the basic or elementary review (the one I tend to favour) and the exhaustive review.

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