The Problem With Rating Systems

The Problem With Rating Systems

If you’re an avid anime watcher or at least been involved in the community in some way beyond just watching one series here and there, you’ve probably at least heard of sites like MAL or AniList. These are sites many people use that allow you to track the number of anime you’ve watched. I personally use MAL, but I’m going through the process of making an AniList as well.


These sites do have more to offer besides just trackers, though. They also allow you a great place to interact with other anime watchers, get news about the medium, and absorb yourself into it. They’re kind of like hubs for anime fans. Now that anime has grown to the point it has in recent decades, it’s much easier to find others to interact with that enjoy the medium, so I feel these forum-type sites aren’t as necessary anymore. Still, they’re great to have.


But the part of these sites that have remained pretty integral to the avid anime watchers experience is the tracking aspect. I love the concept of it. It makes me feel rewarded almost for watching anime. Like each series I watch is a check box I fill in. It’s hard to explain, but I enjoy doing it a lot. It’s fun to me, and I think many other fans would agree. But there are parts I don’t like.


On these sites, you can rate the series you’ve watched. On MAL you can give each series a 1-10, and on AniList, you can rate it in many different ways from 1-100 to smiley faces. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong, per se, about the concept of rating series. It’s a nice quick way for you and fellow fans to see the type of shows you’re into.

If you see someone rate Clannad with a top score, you know they have great taste and love to cry, but also that they likely enjoy romance. If they rate something like My Hero Academia low, you can guess they either don’t like action, or they don’t like action anime where many episodes don’t consist of much action. I like MHA, don’t get me wrong, but it’s true. I wish they’d speed up the pace, honestly.


But rating systems aren’t all great. 1-10 ratings don’t work. I don’t think that’s anywhere near enough of a scale to judge anything effectively. There’s far too much nuance in series, especially when you have a bigger watchlist, to fit potentially 100s of anime into a scale of 1-10. Even more so for 5-star rating systems and others with less of a scale.


The one that I like the most is the 1-100 scale. I think that gives more than enough room to compare series properly. But that where my problem comes in. The main point of the rating system is to compare something to the other things you’ve seen. It’s so you can remember, and others can see that you thought this harem series was a 6-10.


The problem is different people have different ways they rate things. They may see that you rated it a 6 and think you hated it, but in reality, you enjoyed it. You just view a 5 or a 6 as a good, but not great, score. But the other person considers everything below  7-8 bad. Nobody seems to really agree on what each number in a 1-10 scale represents. I usually consider anything 5 or higher to be decent, and 4 is when it starts to get bad. Others think as I said, that something below 7 is bad. The same would qualify for any rating system, no matter what the scale. People just can’t agree on it.


That’s already half of the reason for the rating system’s existence gone. The other half is using the rating system to remind yourself of your opinion on a specific series. But I usually have a problem with that too.

Take, for instance, that I rate a series a 5. That was what I thought when I watched it, and I agree with that opinion today. But there’s another series that I also rated a 5 that I agree with too, but I think the first series is superior, yet I gave them the same rating. Sometimes I may think something is almost a 6 and give it that because it’s not quite a 5, but I wouldn’t give it a 6 normally.


Again, this is resolved a bit by the 100 scale, but it can still run into the same problem. And I think the biggest reason for that is how I personally like to rate the series I watch.


As I said, I consider 4 to be the point something is getting bad, 5 is ok to mediocre, and 6 is when things start to be pretty good. But the series that I rate tend to overlap in ways that I don’t agree with.


If I rate a series, I take my enjoyment, how unique it was, art, music, and everything into account to a certain extent. But I also compare it to other series I’ve seen within the genre rather than other anime in general. It’s not the be-all-end-all in my decision, but it does matter.


I rate this comedy a 6, not because it was better than an action series I gave a 4, but because I found it better than other comedies I rated lower. When I rate things, I rate them more against series in the same genre instead of against every anime ever.

Because of that, I may rate an action series an 8 and a romance a 7, but even if the 8 is higher, I still like the romance more. The action was far better than others I’ve seen but isn’t necessarily higher in my mind than the romance that I thought was pretty good. This can create situations where my higher-rated series may not necessarily be my favorite. To circumvent this, I give my favorites a 10, even if I wouldn’t necessarily say some of them are.


This can also have a similar problem, which is what I usually face, where I might give series a higher or lower rating just so they aren’t on the same level as other series, even if I don’t agree with the rating. It’s an issue that’s born from me trying to separate what I think is my favorite from what I would say is objectively better.


This is the biggest reason I’m going to be using AniList as well. Not only is the 1-100 going to be more accurate, but it also gives you separate lists based on each genre. This will give others, and myself, a much more detailed look at what series I enjoyed over others. 


Because at the end of the day, I really don’t believe it’s fair in any way to judge an action series against a romance. Both are completely different things, and though they both have the ultimate goal of trying to tell a good story, they have unique ways they need to achieve that goal. That’s why I don’t really like rating systems in their current form, and there’s really no way to correct them.


That’s also why I don’t take them very seriously. It’s a nice reminder to me and a way for other people to see some of my tastes. That’s all they are. They don’t necessarily reflect my whole opinions. Those can’t really be made into a number. All series have some good and bad to them. Nothing’s ever so cut and dry.

Take Darling in the Franxx, for example, the anime that restored my faith in the medium as a whole a few years ago. I believe it’s about a 6-10. That would make you assume I thought it was just decent. What that number doesn’t tell you is that before the series fell apart with 7 or so episodes left, I would have given it an 8 or a 9 all day, or, quite possibly, a rare 10.


So I really, really adored a majority of the series, but it fell on its face, rolled down a hill, and died in a ditch so bad that by looking at my score, you’ll only get part of the story. Again, this can’t be corrected with anything I can think of. You can’t exactly write a detailed description of why you liked every series, nor would I feel like writing it, and nobody would ever read it if I did. Numbers or other simple things are the best we can do.


And don’t even get me started on the most blaring issue of rating systems. My opinions change, and I don’t have time to rewatch every series. This means on the occasion I look through my list, I pretty much forget about half of the series. Take The Familiar of Zero, for instance. I watched that as like my third anime. I could barely remember anything about it when I made my MAL. I said it was a 6, and that was it. Did it deserve it? Beats me.


Despite all the talking I’ve done, I really don’t put much thought into the ratings I give. I’m not some professional telling you why you should or shouldn’t watch something. I’m no fine anime connoisseur. I’m just a guy that likes tracking his anime. I won’t lose my job or something if I decide to rate this trash series a 10 or rate Angel Beats a 6. I bet you I would like that one more if I saw it again, though.


I just wanted to take this chance to talk about rating systems, particularly because of how important it is in the anime community. I’ve had strong opinions on them for a while now, and I wanted to voice some of them. When I wrote my first review for an anime back in early 2019 on MAL, I gave it a rating at the end.


I realized that I only did it because others did, and since I didn’t really agree with it, I tried to make it cuter by saying something out of something based on what the anime was rather than a number. Like 7 cat purrs out of 10? I really stretched it sometimes. It became too much trouble for something I didn’t even like, so I dropped it.


That was back in the good old days, where I struggled hard for a month to write 1000 words about an entire anime, yet now I’m writing 800 more than that about numbers in a couple days. Things change. My reviews were pretty awful back then, but I still see a lot of myself in them. They very much have my same sense of humor and opinions, which made me feel good for some reason.


Thank you very much for reading

What are your opinions on rating systems, and how do you think they could be done better? Am I just overthinking things? Probably.

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