How many times have you seen this in an anime or manga: the foreigner — usually from America (and female) — is loud, outspoken, and blunt. The main Japanese character is quiet and tries to find the positive in everything.
Do you think these are rather accurate generalizations or stereotypes?
RocketNews24 recently had a post titled “Japan’s extremely harsh video game reviews may be the reason it gets some new releases last” a couple of weeks ago. The article included a tweet comparing the ratings on Amazon for Pokémon Sun and Final Fantasy XV on the Japanese, American, British, German, and Italian sites.
— しるこ (@Siruker) December 4, 2016
— しるこ (@Siruker) December 4, 2016
The post also brings up Pokémon Go and how Japan had to wait two weeks before the app became available in that country. Was this intentional? Do the Japanese tend to be harsh in their reviews, as user @yokotaro suggests in the article?
Well, I decided to do my own comparison.
First, I decided to do both a manga and a game comparison chart. There’s really no weekly or monthly list for anime discs in America. More significantly, anime DVDs and Blu-rays tend to be very different between the two countries, so it would be hard to do a comparison. I also limited my research to Japan and the US.
For manga, I looked at the last four weeks the manga bestsellers on the Oricon chart and The New York Times. I chose to look at the first volume of each of those series that appeared on there. (Of course, I limited it to books available in both countries.) The Legend of Zelda was the new Legendary Edition. For games, I used titles from the last two months from Nintendo Everything and GameSpot. If multiple platforms were available, I looked at the scores for the PlayStation 4 version. I kept the same volume of the series with the exception of of Yo-kai Watch. I only looked at the standard edition scores with the exception of Skyrim.
Of course, this list isn’t perfect. Some “reviews” are people who are confused and think it’s a place to leave seller feedback like on eBay. I’m sure there are plenty of troll scores as well. However, I am assuming the rate is rather consistent, that an unwarranted 5-star review is balanced out by an unwarranted 1-star review. Japan also has the advantage in the manga volumes, as many of those have been out for years longer than the US. However, this is balanced out by the fact a lot of American fans know where the series is going thanks to later volumes and/or the anime; a lot of the Japanese reviews were based solely on the first volume.
Final note: some numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
As you can see, in both charts, Americans left more reviews on average. This may not be surprising as the US. has nearly 200 million more citizens, plus Amazon is an American company. However, in almost all of the manga and the majority of the games, Amazon US. ratings were higher than than the ratings on Amazon. Japan. Even if you take out the highest and lowest scores, the averages don’t change much:
Manga: US +33, US +0.6
Games: US +90, US +0.2
So, are these significant numbers? Two-tenths and six-tenths of a star?
As this article points out, a difference of, say, .38 can have a major difference on rankings. An item with a 4.74 average rating would be in the 94th percentile; a similar product with a rating of 4.36 would be all the way down in the 54th percentile! See their example chart:
While numbers are consistent, the weight we give them are not. A half a star or so corresponds to a point on a 10-point scale, or five percent when grading. Nobody really cares if a game gets a 1 or a 2; a 6 versus a 7, meanwhile, can definitely be a tipping point for money. One is associated with average, the other pretty good. And if you need to pass a class, 67% versus 71% often determines whether you will end up with extra homework.
Most of the manga with a lot more US ratings tended to be action manga. A Bride’s Story is slightly rated higher on Amazon US than Amazon Japan, yet 100 more Japanese users felt compelled to write a review. Two hundred more Americans wrote a review on One-Punch Man. When you see the first volume on Amazon, it looks as if it has five full stars; the Japanese rating clearly has a missing star. An American seeing One-Punch Man would likely view this as a must-read, nearly perfect volume; a Japanese visitor would probably see it as a very good but not essential title. Superheroes are a major industry in the US thanks to Marvel and DC, and this probably also helps One-Punch Man‘s popularity here. In addition, I could only get one shoujo manga on this list since so many are currently unavailable in America. (Although Waiting for Spring is due out next summer, and it’s only a matter of time before Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc is licensed.)
In addition, games used to be made primarily for the developer’s country of residence. If it got translated, great! Now that more and more products are being translated and released, a company would have to be crazy to purposefully limit their product’s appeal. Look at how many anime and manga titles are how many are given official English titles right from the start of publication.
It’s far easier to give a good review when you know where a series is going. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of Western readers will likely have experienced later volumes (legally or illegally) or be familiar with the anime. Let’s face it: nobody reads the early volumes of Attack on Titan and thinks the art is gorgeous. But if you mentally replace it with the art in the later volumes or can picture the same scenes with the anime voices, music, and visuals, it’s much easier to handle.
Sure, there are game rentals through local chains or Redboxes. But since the US has a smaller population density, many players can’t easily borrow a copy of a game. Manga? Even harder to obtain. Sure, a local library might carry some of the big-name titles, but it might be a while before a series takes off enough for a branch to carry it. In Japan, you can read a chapter of a series along with many others with pocket change.
In addition, the secondhand market is huge in Japan. If a reviewer knows others can easily get a cheap copy, they are less likely to insistent others have to buy it now. Just like anything, a price can make or break a review. Full price for an item? Piece of crap. Fifty, sixty, even seventy percen off? Now it’s not so bad. So that one game for 6,000 yen may be terrible, but if you can find it at a local shop for 3,000 yen and trade it back in for 1,500? Probably still cheaper and provides more entertainment value than going to the movies.
Or is it just as @yokotaro says, that the Japanese will look for any flaw to bring a score down? Is it rooted in the culture, that Americans tend to be more fun-loving while the Japanese are workaholics? That Japan tends to be more perfectionist? That Americans are more open-minded and prone to trying new things while the Japanese are more traditional?
Certainly these are all points to consider. I know I’ve looked up manga and games to import on Amazon Japan and have stumbled upon ones I’ve already seen or read. Sometimes I have thought, “Man, that score seems harsh!” The current top review for Pokémon Sun on Amazon gives the game five stars. On Amazon Japan? One star.
Considering it’s impossible to rate anything 0 stars on Amazon, how do citizens of two countries view the same game so differently? The American review covers the changes and praises the game as being a step forward for the series; the Japanese reviewer wrote that even changes like having statuses healed couldn’t redeem the game. While Pokémon Sun does include a lot of changes for the series, the basic idea of capturing monsters and becoming the best remains the same. This person has never reviewed any other Pokémon game, but don’t you wonder how they would rate the others?
In short, yeah, I do think reviews — at least reviews on Amazon – tend to be a little harsh. I mean, as someone who played that awful E.T. Atari game, a video game would probably need to be full of glitches, have absolutely no story, typos galore, graphics from MS Paint, and music that sounds muffled for me to rate it a one-star. Based on my initial impressions, Pokémon Sun isn’t anywhere close to that.
If you sort by top reviews for Pokémon Sun, the last five pages (and probably even more than that) are full of five star reviews along with a few four star reviews.
The first five pages (again, perhaps more) are full of reviews three stars and under. I doubt Amazon Japan customers couldn’t find a four- or five-star review that was very helpful. On Amazon US, the first five pages are mostly four- and five-stars with some three-star reviews; the last five pages have some five stars but also some one-stars, often for reasons unrelated to the actual game.
Similar situations can be found in other games. Content-wise, a lot of the “least helpful” reviews on Amazon Japan are from parents talking about how their child is having fun; on Amazon US the comments range from “cartridge unusable” to “boring” to “fast/slow shipping” to “got dog clippers” to “Nico Nico Nii”.
There definitely is a significant difference in Amazon reviews on the two countries’ corresponding site. But based on the top comments order, maybe it’s not so much the Japanese are more critical: Americans mostly want to use reviews as a way to tell people to try a product; Japanese reviews seem to focus more on avoiding products.
Or maybe it’s because a lot more Americans are prone to writing dumb “reviews” on Amazon that skew the results.
Or maybe the Japanese just are that picky.
Or the divide between the Japanese and overseas customers is growing despite globalization and increased awareness of foreign media.
What do you think?
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I think Americans are a lot more expressive than the Japanese are when it comes to having opinions. The Japanese can be opinionated, but they often come out as low-key. This all reminds me of Japanese guests coming to conventions in the States and saying things like “Oh my god, American fandom is so passionate and free!” The individualist nature of the West is in full display here.
There’s some level of restraint when it comes to Japanese speaking out as they consider other viewpoints of the group (which ties into their culture).
Before I really started looking at Japanese reviews, I would have guessed they would have been higher on average. As you mentioned, their culture includes more restraint and collective-ness, so I would have thought they would hate to be harsh. It’s all just so interesting.