What Does it Mean to be “Average”?

So I’ve recently had the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing Final Fantasy II, which everyone says is garbage, and Haikyuu Season 1, which everyone says is great. I have found personally that these are two perfect examples of the 5/10 ‘average’ rating, but for entirely different, rather interesting reasons.

Firstly, I played the PSP version of FF2, and watched only the first season of Haikyuu with no manga experience. This means, in the case of FF2, that the most common complaint lobbied against it, that of the tedious grinding required by the Kawazu levelling system, doesn’t apply, as this version has grinding toned down significantly, along with difficulty. In the case of Haikyuu, it means that the only thing I have to go on is the 25 episodes I watched. I found both to be nothing above or below ‘average’.

But first, what does it mean to be ‘average’. The way I’ve always thought of it is something I enjoyed just enough to finish it, and yet dislike it just enough to feel zero desire to ever experience it again. This I would rate a 5/10. No, this is neither a bad or good score, and no, you should not be going at this using school grading logic of everything under ~60% being some kind of fail. Bad. By definition, most things should  be at the 5/10 level, it’s not a ‘shameful’ score. I had some modicum of fun, but it had major flaws, and I feel basically nothing towards that specific thing.

Haikyuu is a perfect case. I enjoy the visuals at their best, when effort is out into truly fluid animation, but the show is generally very static and boring, with the matches dragging out for inordinate amounts of time. I like some of the characters, and I can’t help imagining how much better a show about Nishinoya and Asahi as main characters would be, but the rest I find boring or active irritants. I like volleyball just enough to feel the catharsis of a well-animated dig or serve, but I feel nothing for the characters. It has nothing to do with it a being a sports anime, or shonen anime, or whatever empty genre descriptors are often applied to shows like this. It’s just a dull, run-of the-mill thing I watched because I liked a select few elements enough to keep going, and I don’t forsee a rewatch or a Season 2 watch any time soon.

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This is my standard definition of average, but Final Fantasy II is average because it has things I really like combined with things I really hate, and so the score is a literal average of these things.

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I love the PSP Final Fantasy ports’ visual design and spritework, and that remains the case here, but I hate the terrible boss design that just leads to exchanging 10’s of points of damage where to other enemies I was dealing hundreds. I love the satisfaction of getting stronger and seeing meters go up, though I hate the randomness of it, and although the grinding is far reduced from the original NES version, I still found myself doing so more than any of the first four FF’s. I like the characters. They don’t actively damage the experience despite being boring pieces of cardboard. I hate how the Teleport and Toad spells are all you need, because EVERY ENEMY in the game is susceptible to these spells except the final boss! This means you always have an instant kill move in your back pocket that’ll work given two uses. I hate how the game almost requires this because of the aforementioned terrible boss design, and I somewhat dislike the annoying repetition and busywork that is the main plot. On the other hand, I love the game’s relentless bleakness and sense of despair through the music and the narrative, and adore the Emperor as the walking power-incarnate villain he is. However, I hate how easy and underwhelming the final boss was.

You get the picture. Dissonant, alternating terrible and excellent elements form an awkward chorus that leaves with mixed feelings, to say the least. FF2, I would argue is a fundamentally broken game, and this brokenness leaves it nothing more than average. Haikyuu is not a broken series, it is merely a dull one. If FF2 is an inventive, awkward symphony full of melodious tunes and unpleasant crashing, Haikyuu is uninteresting radio pop: Sure, I’ll listen to it, and I didn’t mind it, but my only feeling is a disinterested whatever.

(By the way, Final Fantasy II’s actual music is freaking fantastic, and everyone should give it a listen. Even the NES tunes evoke emotion that these bleeps and bloops really shouldn’t)

This is fascinating to me, as these two completely different things, and through completely different means, achieve an equal score. I feel like I should honestly start grading in terms of complex functions with three axes, as this situation sheds light on the difficulty, and almost futility, of assigning things a number and leaving them at that. It’s also, I think, what motivates me to write, to give things I like, hate, and everything in between their due beyond a single value/value. That’s fine for basic categorisation, but we need more, and maybe this was an attempt to give justice to the so often-ignored ‘average’.

 

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