When is it Okay to Call Something Overrated?

Anime is like a fine wine. Not because of its refined elegance (Neo Yokio aside), but because even the professional tasters will disagree about what is and isn’t “good” wine. Even with these disagreements, there still exists a general consensus of what wine is generally good. And most importantly, it’ll still get you drunk regardless of what the professional reviewers say.

What does “Overrated” even mean?

Vox Media recently started a new video series called “Overrated” where they take a look at different media that they consider to be overrated. for their first video, they highlighted the literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

In their video, they attribute the novel’s transformation from commercial success to literary legend to the paperback boom that took place at the same time. By the time “To Kill a Mockingbird” won the Pulitzer prize in 1961, paperback book sales were booming and they were even being used in schools.

Up until this time, paperbacks had mostly been relegated to cheap “pulp fiction” novels: heavy on sex, violence, and scandal. When To Kill a Mockingbird was published on paperback in 1962, teachers finally had a respectable and affordable book to use in the classroom. This timing gave the book the momentum necessary to reach readers far and wide. And because the paperback industry operates on thin margins, the publishers were just as eager to push out millions of copies.

So with this context in mind, is it fair to call To Kill a Mockingbird overrated? If you go solely by recognition and popularity, is To Kill a Mockingbird 500% better than other books from its era? 1000% better?

If you look at this in the context of comparisons, it’s hard to imagine that its even 300% better than the Pulitzer prize winners from the surrounding years.

So what’s the problem?

Some people will argue that the word overrated doesn’t have a useful place in debate. They reject the concept of arbitrary baseline to measure against. Instead of calling something overrated, why shouldn’t we just say “I don’t like it”?

This approach is as lazy as they are claiming the word overrated is. Of course there is a general consensus around which anime is good. If nothing else, sales numbers can give us some insight into this general consensus.

So let’s get this out of the way: the word overrated is still useful.

We need to recognize that it’s possible to say something is overrated without that translating to saying it’s bad. In fact, you should even be able to call shows you like overrated.

This is usually where things break down. One person tells another that their favorite show is overrated and this becomes an attack calling their favorite show bad. At this point, things go from a debate about media to simply sharing opinions without context.

When you review media, you’re inherently comparing it against other similar media. You compare action movies to other action movies, superhero comics to other superhero comics, and anime to other anime in a specific genre.

Sometimes things can even be “deservingly overrated”.

Is Evangelion overrated compared to the entirety of animated entertainment?

Probably.

Is it deservingly overrated?

Absolutely.

Not unlike the “To Kill a Mockingbird” example above, Evangelion came on the scene at the perfect time. Gundam had reshaped the market for mecha anime and “real robots” had become the norm for serious mecha anime. So when Evangelion showed up with its mentally troubled characters and robots-but-actually-monsters, it was a breath of fresh air for fans at the time. Ask yourself: how would Evangelion fare if it were released today?

Use with caution

The important takeaway here is that we use the word in context and provide reasons. Is it overrated for its genre? Its era? Compared to other work by the same creator? In what context is it overrated?

So the next time you hear someone toss the word overrated around, just ask them why they think it’s overrated. And the next time you’re tempted to use the word, remind yourself to consider the context in which you are applying this label.

So what do you think? Is “overrated” useful?

What anime do you think is overrated (and why?)

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