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This year has been quite an active year for the AGA Showcase, both in pre-judging participation and post-judging commentary. I've now been on both sides of the showcase and would like to give some feedback to help the participants and observers understand why some things worked out as they did. While I can only speak in detail about my portion of the deal, there are some generalities that I can make.

First off, and most importantly, this was a VERY close year as far as quality of aquascapes is concerned. More often than not the top aquascapes came down to single points between aquariums. In cases like this it came down to tiny details to determine which aquarium should be ranked higher. It could have been something as simple as a more mature vs. slightly less mature foreground or planting group.

Some have made the comment that maintenance played an over large role in the scoring this year. In most cases Viability was the detail that made the difference between to excellent aquascapes. If two equally beautiful aquascapes were tied for a position and one had a species of plant that could potentially take over easily without regular pruning and the other didn't, it's a good chance that the former was docked a point to break the tie.

Regarding the high proportion of maintenance oriented comments: Given the quality of aquascapes and the increased ability to successfully grow difficult plants, maintenance technique and care for long term success are given more attention as areas for improvement. Regardless of whether the aquarist commonly redesigns his/her aquascape every six months long term stability is one of the criteria of adjudication and is still counted. In the cases where so many fast growing plants are used that the design changes from week to week as the different groups dominate consideration is given to how well the aquascape will maintain the state submitted, not what the aquarist may have had in mind at the time of design.

As far as actual placement is concerned, in just about every case the ranking aquascapes were ranked by some sort of averaging calculation. This means that it was exceedingly rare that any single ranking aquascape was placed in rank by more than two judges. In just about every case the ranking aquascapes were those that scored consistently high with all the judges. Often, they would have a place ranking among one of the judges scores, but not always by all.

One must also keep in mind that different judges weight different deficiencies more or less highly than another. For example, what I may have considered a 4 point deduction, Mr. Amano may have deducted 6 points for and vice versa. Generally, this worked out well as the opinions of the various judges worked themselves out into a pretty harmonious agreement.

As far as scoring goes, keep in mind that only 30 points out of the total 100 are given for Aquascaping/Composition. An aquarium which may have had a mind blowing aquascape that was presented poorly, had poor choices of species, or issues with long term stability of design could potentially have lost enough points to take it out of contention for rank. This happened very often and in some cases took an otherwise #1 aquarium down to #2, #3 or even out of contention at all.

More later...
 

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bem...

thks...but i have one question...
why is so difficult to see a positive comment from Mr. Amano? ( is there any?)...(i found at least one :"Driftwood arrangement and plants in the foreground was excellent. The moss on the driftwood was good"....tank`s owner: Gomer :D )
 

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It might be a difference in culture. I find it very common for Americans to give possitive comments and soften the blow on the not so possitive comments. How often is it that you hear someone say "your tank is very poor. I would do this and this and this to fix it." Americans (my self included) often do not say what is on their mind...the whole "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all" mentallity

The Japanese culture (just a guess) might not sugar coat. You can probably assume that Amano 1) says possitive things that are really good in his eyes 2) negative things that hurt the scape ...anything inbetween ijust doesn't get mentioned. The result of this is what you read.

..atleast that is how I interpret his comments.

I would also like to add that on virtually all of Amano's toped ranked tanks, he left possitive comments (which seam to support my assumption)
 

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Aquascape comments

Tony you're right about "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all" mentallity in America.
I've seen IMO crap aquascapes, that other comment as nice. Sometime postive comments only hurt and not further advance the level of the designer. Negative comments are good if only you can provide a answer to why.
APC is the only forum that doesn't sugar coat there comments and tell it like it is, thanks to a big part from Tsunami.

Phil thanks for being a judge for AGA. You did a great job with your comments. It's hard to be a judge since there is a fine line from personnal opinon to facts.
You are right on about the wood being too strong on the right side. I didn't have enough time to correct the problem when I submitted the photo.
The only judge I never care much for is Karen. "I wish the aquarist had smoothed the front edge of the gravel more carefully, as the ragged edge draws the eye away from the aquascape in a jarring way." ---Karen

She also comment on some other tank by saying this tank was put together and not to last past one year.

Phil I wish you never hand the mic over to her. She was just putting the whole room to sleep that night or was it the lights.
oops..if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all.

What I've learn over the years is not to take comment to heart. If you change your design to what the judges ask, there is still a chance you still will not win. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

There was a lot of pretty tanks, but not much original designs in this years AGA contest. There are a lot of copies of basic Amano designs, but with different plant arrangments. The only tank that got my vote was the "pale moonlight" by Tony G.
 

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I'm reallypleased that you like the tank Ken. It is by far my favorite creation.

I think that the US as a whole is a wee bit behind in scaping and the sugar coating isn't helping much. I think I'll try to be more pro-active on tank comments. While I don't think I can compare to the advice that people like carlos regularly gives on the forum, I think I can offer something USEFULL to the scape. perhaps if less people in the US sugar coat, the level in the US will increase.

..I can only hope
 

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I guess I would rather go for a comment on what was not working for me and what I could do to improv it, rather than a comment saying how nice thing looks. With this kind of feedback I can push forward and improve on my aquascape beyond my own level.

I will always remmeber Tsunami's comment on the last aquascape I postet: Ehh, what a collection of healty looking stem plants :) The comment was a very good one, it was very possitive telling me that I was able to grow healty looking plants, and yet telling me that the the actual aquascape was missing :oops: I guess it's about time I postet a few pics form my lates scape, I have some new questions twirling around in my head.

The feedback that I can get form this forum is maybe one of the highlights, since it's so darn hard to get anywhere else. I need the feedback to improve... and I have a loong way to go 8)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Ken,

I'm glad you appreciated the commentary. It was the commentary part of judging that was most important to me. I know what it's like to want helpful critique of an entered aquascape only to get "nice grouping of plants". Or "With no fish, this hardly counts as a biotope." (That's my personal favorite. :evil: ) Since we don't get to see our scores it's up to the comments to show why the tank did how it did and what could be made better about it.

For better or worse people take that stuff to heart and can be very affected by it. Personally, I would much rather see a paragraph of what's wrong with any of my entries than one line of "Pretty tank". We're entering the stuff to be JUDGED. That's why it's there, to be picked apart and with any luck be told what needs improvement. I didn't get through 10 years of competitive singing with only a "The singer has a nice voice". If I had, I would have wondered what was wrong with the judges. I have a GREAT voice! ROFLOL :lol: :lol:

As far as originality, if I'm not mistaken most of the truly original stuff *was* American. The cookie cutter stuff was mostly international. Originality is great and I think credit should be given for it, but I'd rather see a familiar concept done REALLY well than a new idea done so-so. It's only when we've mastered the basics that we can branch out and create truly unique masterpieces.
 

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As a former student of Japanese language and culture, I thought I'd like to try to interpret a bit about Mr. Amano's comments. The first thing I'd like to point out is that everything he said had to be passed through a translator. No matter how skilled the translator, it is never guaranteed that everything said will be translated, or that the original emotion of the the words will be accurately conveyed.

If anyone is in the know, please feel free to correct me, but my guess is that Amano probably said more than one sentence regarding each tank. Part of why some of his comments came off as comparatively harsh is that often there was only one statement provided per tank. Again, I don't know if he actually said more, but I would think he had to have.

Additionally, within the Japanese culture, being a company owner, a teacher, and an artist earns him a lot of deference. If any of Mr. Amano's employees are doing something within an aquascape that he views as incorrect, he will probably tell them that is wrong - straight up. They will thank him for that and never wonder what gives him the right to judge their work so harshly. Culturally, for a man in his peerless position, he wouldn't and shouldn't be afraid to say what he thinks is right within his domain with little thought to appearances or others' emotions.

I think a lot of what was said earlier is very true as well. As Americans we are tought to be mindful of people's feelings when we speak, and we tend to adjust our criticism accordingly. This is not missing from Japanese culture. In fact, if you are addressing someone you do not know or someone of higher social status (e.g. your boss, your teacher), being polite and mindful is very important. The same is not true when speaking to someone of a lower social status. You tend to be societally freed from extreme politeness.

These are all my interpretations - I welcome any other thoughts.
 
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