Every once-in-a-while I find myself pondering the differences between watching anime (or anything, really) in a group and watching it by myself. Even though the content of a show is exactly the same either way, I find that my own reaction might be more or less dramatic depending on how many other people are around and might even even be colored who those people are.
This is a good reason why I try to watch the anime I intend to review on my own first before talking about it or watching it with other people. This has turned out to be a good personal policy, since I've ended up watching multiple things that friends have seen one or two episodes of and hated. It might surprise some people to know that there are quite a few series to which I give the benefit of the doubt and end up watching alone to little fanfare, whether other people I know have enjoyed it, panned it, or paid it little or no attention. I'm willing to believe that there are good, watchable examples of any genre, and try to watch series that fall into ones that many people I know dislike. I certainly wouldn't be watching any harem series, shounen action series or straight-up mecha anime if I let my friends influence what I was watching.
Despite its sometimes corny and melodramatic moments, I watched - and enjoyed - all of Antique Bakery.
Of course, it becomes more and more difficult to recommend series to people, because many tend to shut themselves down if one undesirable thing happens in an early episode. I've certainly been guilty of this too; my recent review of Bakemonogatari is proof of this, though I've since established much more positive feelings towards the series as a whole. But if I have to say to someone "just ignore this panty shot because the story is really good" I've already colored their reaction to a show - letting them know that they're not going to like something creates another hurdle to them being able to connect to it, whereas if the offending item occurred later in the series after they had established some connection to it, it would be easier to overlook. It's been a lot tougher for me lately to make recommendations to people with whom I interact with on a regular basis, because I've gotten into a mindset that so many series require excuses and even though I feel like I'm familiar with my friends' tastes, it's often surprising to me what they're willing to overlook and what might become an instant deal-breaker. With my online reviews that mainly reach people who I don't know personally, this personal aspect of trying to formulate my recommendations to personal acquaintances and the stress therein isn't really a factor.
Senjougahara taunts Araragi in a scene from episode 2 of Bakemonogatari - would my sensitive friends be able to look past this and enjoy the show?
Most of you know that I attend and am an active member of an honest-to-goodness, real-life anime club at the University of Minnesota. Watching anime in a group like this with ages that range from freshman to middle-age is an entirely different experience. With a group that has such a large number of members (attendance ranges between 30-60 members depending on the semester and the popularity of the series), reactions to certain series and certain aspects of said series tend to be very different than what I experience watching things alone. This can be both a positive and negative thing.
On the positive side, watching comedies and action series is generally a more fulfilling experience, because excitement is something that tends to build on itself the more people that are there to experience it. I felt kind of lukewarm about the original Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series because I felt that its jokes were a bit too Japanese-centric to connect with a Western audience, but when I watched it at anime club, I was proven wrong. The ability of the slapstick humor and quirkiness of the characters to override the Japanese cultural jokes was dramatic, and many people marked it as one of their favorites.
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei often contains humor that a Western audience may not fully understand or appreciate.
On the negative side, though, shows with dramatic, sexual or otherwise controversial content seem to bring out the immaturity in many people. I think in some cases, content that someone might find emotionally-moving when viewed by themselves becomes uncomfortable in a group, and since the viewer doesn't want to appear weak or vulnerable in front of their acquaintances they hide their reactions behind obnoxious giggles or some other inappropriate response. I remember a particular occasion right at the end of Kaze no Yojimbo, when a character was dying, and one girl couldn't stifle her giggles during that dramatic moment because "OMG THIS PART IS SO YAOI!!!11one." She essentially ruined for the rest of the audience what was supposed to be a very dramatic, almost tragic moment with her inappropriate verbal ejaculation. Likewise, as far is as episode 18 people were still giggling over the male-to-female transformation of the main character in Le Chevalier d'Eon, even though by that time it was both old hat and inextricably linked to the plot, and had long since left "gimmicky" territory. This isn't to say that a large group can't share in being emotionally-affected - in a rare moment of maturity, the whole of MAS was silent the day we watched Voices of a Distant Star. But on the whole, I think that any group, even a smaller group, might suffer from bouts of this.
D'eon becomes possessed by his sister's spirit, which causes him to look more like her.
So why watch stuff with other people, especially when there's the potential to ruin your own viewing experience if the other people are unable to act like grown-ups? I think the reason that I keep participating in various anime viewing groups is a combination of various factors. In the past, when I was just branching out into anime fansubs, being amongst people who were more experienced in acquiring unusual anime and seeing things in anime club I would have never found on my own was a big factor in wanting to be in a group. Nowadays I feel like I'm on the other end, and as irritating as it can be to share series with others and have them completely miss the point, there are those times when something that I love is just as loved by others, and that's a high that just can't be replicated over the internet.