Poe’s Point > A Reviewer’s Manifesto

che_skeletorRecently, I was taken to task in the comments section of one of my figure reviews. The commenter believed I am generally too lenient on the figures I review, and that my grading system did not reflect the actual quality of the figure. In my response, I explained I review figures based on the idea that I’m reviewing it for those who would be interested in this particular figure, not objectively against every action figure ever made.

The analogy I used was movies: can a movie like Finding Nemo be objectively compared to Citizen Kane? One could try, but if I wrote a movie review where, in my head, I’m constantly thinking to myself “Would someone who thinks the Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever like Finding Nemo?” the end result would be pretty damned weird, and probably unreadable. No matter how great a film it is, Finding Nemo is a film intended for a young audience, while Citizen Kane is not, and trying to review one based on the other for the purposes of making a recommendation to someone strikes me as silly.

The same goes for trying to review, say, The Seventh Seal for an audience who loves action movies. You can either water the review down so much you end up just writing banal ad copy, or you try to get some sense of the audience who is most likely to want to see this film (or buy this figure) and review it based on similar works.

However, I admit my “X out of 5 ravens” system is flawed. If I were being fair, a figure like Captain Atom, a good but very average example of DCUC, should get a 2.5 rating, whereas Deathstroke and Hawkman would get 4-5 and a flawed figure like the too-short Sinestro or the ill-conceived Starfire should be a 2 or less. However, I’m often reluctant to give lower scores, simply because I have a hard time putting down the work of others (unless I think no real effort was put into the project).

The commenter who questioned my reviews expressed a preference for the greater detail in the sculpting and paint applications of McFarlane toys over simpler (if more articulated) figures such as DC Universe Classics. Another toy reviewer recently described the Masters of the Universe Classics sculpts as having “regressed” from the MOTU2K line; again, that’s only true if you believe greater detail equals “better.” The Horsemen have a very specific design aesthetic in mind for MOTUC, and in my opinion, they’ve nailed it with every release so far. While the figures aren’t as detailed as MOTU2K, I think it’s wrong to say they’re “regressive.” They’re just different. Are JLU figures inherently inferior to DCUC simply because they’re not as detailed?

While I’ve considered writing a response to this idea with some basic art theory (greater detail does not necessarily mean “better”), in the end it’s really just a matter of opinion. But it has made me rethink how I write my reviews (yet again!). I thought about how I read other collectors’ reviews, what I look for when I read them, and what sort of information I ignore.

And I came to realize a few things. For one, as long as photos are included, there’s no point in evaluating the quality of the sculpt or the paint applications–the readers can see for themselves. All the readers need is the basic information, such as the figure’s articulation, accessories, quality, durability, and value. Beyond that, I can provide my usual commentary about the character and such forth, but there’s no reason to wrack my brain trying to think of a creative way to say “it’s a great sculpt” or “the paint applications are sloppy.”

And so, moving forward, you’re going to see what I like to think of as more “efficient” reviews here at PGPoA, starting with Kalibak later today. I will retain the raven ratingร‚ย  system, but it will only be a representation of how much I personally like that particular figure.

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16 Comments

  1. *hurls turnip-grenade into the crowd*

  2. Andrew

    I'm with the Articulated One. Pictures can tell things, but often reviews have pointed out to me things I didn't even notice with a toy I've had in my hands.

  3. I like toy reviews enough, but in the end it's a friggen toy. I don't need to know ever single minor detail about the thing in order to know if I want to buy it or not and I don't think you should have to cater to the ultra picky crowd.

  4. I wouldn't skip paint and sculpt – photos can easily either make the figure look better or worse than it is in person. Personally, I write reviews discussing the things that matter to me – either readers can find it useful or not. If you try to cater to the desires of all readers, you end up satisfying none. Some times they have useful suggestions to incorporate, but when it comes to style, you should do what feels most comfortable to you.

  5. Griffin

    Actually I like to hear your impressions on paint/plastic and sculpt beyond just a few words and a picture, because I find that the figure in hand often feels or looks different than the packaging. The camera flash also shows things that might not bother me in normal lighting, particualarly shade matching problems.

  6. Dark Angel

    …I actually prefer the long-winded reviews…even when, you know, I have a long-winded retort…

    …OK, ESPECIALLY when I have a long-winded retort. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Tom-Tom

    Well said. It wouldn't be fair to compare them to McFarlane or NECA, since the companies aren't going at the same angle. I read a review of LittleBigPlanet comparing it to Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, and I stopped reading the review (I forget the name of the site, so sorry, no link).

  8. Frowny McBeard

    It's like translating a foreign text-your review is as likely to say something about you as it is to say something about the toy. I'm fine with your point of view, because while I like Michael Crawford I certainly don't have the kind of scratch required to be a Hot Toys enthusiast, and you tend to review more toys that are A) things I'm looking for and B) within my price range. So yeah, keep up the good work.

    As to the major point of contention, while sculpt matters to me, I'm buying toys-not statues.

  9. For me, the toys I review are toys I was interested in so, unless something is very bad, they usually get a fairly positive review. I know that I'm not very objective, but it's a hobby and my site so I can say whatever I want.

    Luckily, I think most of us reading toy reviews understand that each and every review out there is biased in some way.

    I like your reviews, please don't change your system too much.

  10. Poe

    @SoG: Guilty as charged. While I'm not always a fan of Ebert's reviews, I do think his reviewing philosophy is a good one.

    To be honest, the main reasons I'm instituting this change of review format is because I prefer it to the longer-winded reviews I usually end up writing. However, if it becomes clear everyone misses the long-winded reviews, I'll happily reinstate them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Poe, you sound suspiciously like a fan of film critic Roger Ebert, because this sounds exactly like an issue he's has always dealt with in regard to his ratings system — how can Citizen Kane and Finding Nemo both rate the maximum of four stars when they're entirely different movies. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The answer is: YOU'RE the critic, and as such, most people read your stuff because they're interested in YOUR opinion. If someone doesn't agree with how you do your reviews, they're free to do their own reviews. 'Nuff said.

  12. Phoenix

    I think your reviews are great!!

  13. jumper11

    But isn't that why someone would read your reviews? Because they are interested in your opinion?

    I read what you write because I like what you have to say, not because I think you are the toy god of all seeing objectivity. So keep writing your opinion and I'll keep reading!

  14. Sander T.

    Hey Poe, excellent idea to post about your reviewing style, personally, when I read a review I'm looking for two things, an objective evaluation of what the figure is and is not: is it more a statue than an action figure? Is it intended for play or display or both? Does it have useful articulation? Is it well painted? Does it stand by itself, can it be posed in varied stances? Pictures help, sure, but only the personal manipulation of the figure allows an informed opinion. On the other hand there is the personal view. Does the reviewer like the figure? Does he enjoy seeing it and even playing with it, and, very important, how does it measure up to what the reviewer imagined the action figure would be like when it was first announced or he saw it for the very first time. That is a subjective stance if there ever was one but it also gives important insight as to how the action figures lives up to expectations. If you care for other reviewers' view on the matter, you should check http://www.mwctoys.com/, Michael Crawford's site. I find his reviews to be top notch.

  15. "And I came to realize a few things. For one, as long as photos are included, there’s no point in evaluating the quality of the sculpt or the paint applications–the readers can see for themselves"

    I completely understand that from an efficiency standpoint, but I think a lot of people still like to read others' assessments. It seems like there is a lot about a figure that doesn't come across in photos, and having those ever comforting words to reinforce the photos is enjoyable for me.

    On that note, I think everyone should review however they feel reviews should be done, and people will either like it or they won't.

    So bring on the new styled review with Kalibak later today!

  16. A picture can tell a thousand words, and as you say, as long as there are pics there is really no need to go into great detail over sculpt or paint apps. Reviews (not yours in particular) start to become quite banal, and if the writer has to start using a thesaurus to find new words to describe figures, its sort of defeats a purpose. If I read a movie review, I don't really care what brand of camera they used to film with or who the caterer was, I just wanna know if its worth $10 to go see.

    I don't know how anyone can say that the MOTUC sculpts have "regressed" from one line to another, thats like comparing apples to oranges. Like you say, is JLU not as good as DCUC because they don't have the same detail?

    So why is MOTUC inferior to MOTU2K? Some people just can't get over the fact that 2002 was one line, and this is another line.

    Yes, I do generally like my figures to be in some relative scale to each other, some people are obsessed that He-Man, Death Stroke, and Cyclops can all sit together and look similar.

    Everyone has different tastes, some prefer articulation, detail, and whatnot. I just want the fun, and I don't think its right to completely bash a line just because its not what you want.

    Hence why I enjoy reading your reviews Poe, because you don't ham up the negative, or create problems that don't exist when you don't like something about it. I read any review because I want to find out about the product, but I also want to be entertained.

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