Fair and Square

June 4, 2009

As a reviewer, I get a lot of titles that are either in the middle of the series, or sometimes I get just the last volume.   This came up over on twitter, and the with a comment that a series couldn’t be judged by reading some random volumes.  This got me thinking.  It’s an issue that reviewers would frequently have to deal with.  You can choose not to read any titles that you don’t start from the beginning, or take on all comers.  I’m one that chose to take on all comers.  I’d rather be able to get a taste of a title, than never know at all what it’s like.

When I write a review, I’m reviewing the individual volume I was sent.  I am (trying) not to judge a whole series based on the one volume I received, but really, isn’t that what most people do when they are looking at a new series?  It’s usually the first volume that is the make or break.  Sometimes, you might go to the second or third volume, but it’s first impressions that make the difference.  With a title I’m getting in the middle of the series, I’m still going to have that same first impression and same gut reaction as to whether or not I liked it.

high-school-debut-9The problem with getting volumes in the middle of a title is that, if the plot is complicated or in depth, I’m of course missing a lot by not reading what happened in the preceding volumes.  It’s the same for titles with lots of character development.  It’s easy to get lost in references to people, places and events I know nothing of because I don’t follow the series.  It worried me a little when I first started, but I can say now, it’s not a big deal.  I can pick up just about a volume anywhere in a series and write a review.

There are resources to help get through the quagmire.  Some titles come with summaries at the beginning that give a “Previously…”, or describe all the main characters, giving a rough idea of what’s been going on.  There’s also Wikipedia, which has come to my rescue several times when I didn’t have those things, or I just couldn’t make sense of what was going on.  Sometimes I’ll check other people’s reviews of previous volumes in a series, just to get an idea of what went on.

But, in the end, it’s my reaction to the story and characters, whether I know what’s been going on or not, that matters in my review of a volume.  And I’ve had mixed results with my reactions.  Some titles I’ve read where I didn’t read the first volume are:

Half of these I liked and gave good ratings.  High School Girls, Myhyo & Roshi’s BSI, Red River, and Andromeda Stories all got strong scores.  I started collectingandromeda-2 Muhyo & Roshi and Red River because I did enjoy the volumes so much.  The others, I didn’t care much for.  I didn’t hate the titles, but as I look at the list, every one of them has a protagonist I didn’t like.  High School Debut, B.O.D.Y., and SA each feature female leads that are just too clueless for my tastes.  Some people may like that and think it’s cute, but that’s not the kind of female lead I like.  So whether I started reading at the beginning or not, I don’t think my views of these titles would change.  I did find with further reading that SA volume 8 was better than SA volume 6, and HSD volume 9 wasn’t as bad as HSD volume 5.  I even went into HSD volume 9 hoping there HAD been some change!  I actually liked HSD volume 3 and hoped to like more.  But Haruna’s continued cluelessness just started to grate on me in volume 5.  “Not being as bad as” just doesn’t cut it.  I can confidently say these titles are not for me.

On the other hand, At volume 22, I thought I would be completely lost in Red River‘s long and complicated plot, but had little trouble getting into the story.  Same with High School Girls.  With it being the last volume and all, I still had no problem enjoying the volume, even if I didn’t know some of the characters or their relationships.  Those few moments didn’t ruin the volume as a whole for me.  Andromeda Stories would have connected more with me if I had read the first volume, but two and three stood up just fine, that I still loved the story and it’s bittersweet end.  I would have missed out on some great titles if I passed on reading them because I hadn’t started from the beginning.  Granted, I’d prefer to read from the beginning, but reading volumes from the middle or end hasn’t dampened my enjoyment or enthusiasm for them.

So, can I be a fair judge of a series by reading random volumes of a manga?  I think so, because I’m looking for what I like or dislike about characters and/or plot in a volume.  Reviews are for the most part subjective, and whether I’m starting at the beginning or the middle, or even the end, I’m still going to have a feel for the volume, and in turn, the series.  Not everyone’s going to agree with my review, but again, no matter where I start in a series, that’s going to happen.  As long as I am honest and straightforward with my assessment of a volume, I feel I’ve done my job.

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4 Comments for this entry

  • Ed Sizemore says:

    Great post. I totally agree. When I review middle volumes of a series, I like to mention to the audience if this volume is accessible to a first time reader. Something that Negima is so continuity heavy that you’ll spend a lot of time on Wikipedia to get caught up (almost as much time as if you just went ahead and read the prior volumes).

    As you point out the review is really about that particular volume. Just because the prior 5 volumes of a series was great is no guarantee that volume 6 will be equally as good. So being familiar with the previous volumes is no guarantee of a good review. Fans of a series believe that if you had just read the prior material you would had love this volume. Not always true.

  • Deb Aoki says:

    In general, I never review the middle volume of a series if I hadn’t read and reviewed the prior volumes — or at least the first one. If I receive middle volumes from a publisher, then I wait until I buy all the prior volumes before I attempt to review it. It’s a lot of out-of-pocket cash for me to do so, but I think it gives me a better idea of the creators’ intentions and the evolution of the story.

    I think of it as how a reader would pick up a story. Few would start reading a series from a middle volume — most prefer to start from volume 1. I do try to review subsequent volumes if the creator has made significant strides in improving the story or art after a weak first volume.

  • Trust me when I say that neither B.O.D.Y nor S.A. had a stellar first volume!

  • Deb: my RL makes doing that impossible, so I do what I can. I feel a responsibility to the pubs that send me the review copies, and try to review the titles as best I can. But at least with talking and reading with other bloggers, I feel I have or can get a good idea of what a series is about when I take it up.

    Kate: Then I don’t feel bad for my reviews. If B.O.D.Y. and SA didn’t have good first volumes, I doubt my opinion by 2 or 6 would change. Thanks. :)

    Ed: Thanks.

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