Favorite vs. Best

Since there’s no new episode of Friendship Is Magic today, have a short post instead.

Do you distinguish between your favorite examples of a genre or form and the best examples? I was musing the other day about the fact that my five favorite anime and the five anime I consider the best of what I’ve seen are the same five anime, but if I were to create actual top five lists, they’d be different.

In fact, here are those lists, plus an explanation of why the anime is where it is.

Favorites:

  •  Princess Tutu: The most badass anime about a ballet-dancing duck ever. Also, super-secret ultra-hidden direct Neverending Story reference.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: It makes me laugh, it makes me punch the air and cheer, and certain episodes make me cry no matter how many times I watch them. Also it just looks great.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Total brainsink. I can just watch and think about it for hours. Also, it’s absolutely visually stunning.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Compelling, emotional, intriguing, great fight scenes, and an utterly kick-ass soundtrack.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Explosions, giant plot twists from nowhere, and an emotional continuity that more than makes up for the plot spending most of the middle part of the series meandering aimlessly, and then, just as it’s finding its feet again, collapses into total incoherence.

Best:

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: The most semiotically dense thing I have ever watched, easily surpassing any other TV show or film.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Packs more thematic complexity, character growth, and intriguing ideas into 12 episodes than most series manage in 50.
  • Princess Tutu: Masterfully constructed as a pastiche of dozens of classical ballets and folktales, and yet despite the fact that in each episode the characters are playing out the roles of characters in a given source story, there is also a strong character arc for each of them across the series as a whole.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: The last two episodes are a staggering work of absolute genius and the best-executed narrative collapse in all of anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A masterclass in creating a sprawling, complex plot with a massive cast (by the Promised Day arc, there are fifteen separate groups of characters being independently followed by the narrative) and still making sure that everything is driven by the choices of the characters, and every character’s choices are consistent with their distinct and idiosyncratic personality.

How about you? Do you distinguish between “favorite” and “best,” and if so, what are some examples?

13 thoughts on “Favorite vs. Best

  1. I'm not good at picking “favorites,” because there are just SO many things I like, and I can't say what's “best” for much the same reason. I do, however, distinguish between what I like and what's good. For example, I don't like much of the Beatles' music, but there's no denying that they're good.

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  2. So the “favorites” list focuses on personal reactions and key features, while the “best” list focuses on structure and analysis? Or put another way, the first is written as a “fan” and the second as a “critic”?

    Personally, I would also be hard-pressed to come up with works that make one list but not the other. If something leans towards “favorite” but not “best”, perhaps I've simply not considered why I liked it in enough detail/depth. If something leans towards “best” but not “favorite”, I suspect that I've been unduly influenced by other's opinions without internalizing them as my own.

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  3. I definitely distinguish. My favorites lists are clogged with stuff that resonates with me on a more personal (be it emotional or experiential) level than things which are (probably) objectively “better.” Hence why my list of favorite MLP episodes includes “The Crystal Empire,” and “For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils,” along with genuine greats like “Party of One,” “SSCS6K,” and “Maud Pie.”

    I've actually tried to stop thinking about these things in terms of “best,” for the same reason that I shrug off the “Free Will” debate: It's a linguistic argument rather than philosophical or artistic. It's just about the definition of the terms.

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  4. There are some anime on my favorites list that I admit have flaws or are there for personal reasons (Clannad, Code Geass, Attack on Titan, Nichijou). I love them cause I think their good points far outweigh their faults. It's hard to be completely objective and rate something purely by its “quality.”

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  5. I tend to distinguish, if only because there are some things that I had a blast watching, despite the fact that as a narrative, it makes absolutely no sense (e.g. Inferno Cop). There are also some things that were amazingly good examples of story/character/whatever, that I simply can not go back to for whatever reason (such as Saya no Uta, which still makes me twinge whenever I remember it).

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  6. It's an interesting problem for me, because I think “favorite” and “best” are both just measures of how much the speaker likes something, and that there is no such thing as an objective measure of quality. Why, then, are my lists different? The only thing I can think of is that I have internalized non-objective, but culturally constructed, standards of quality which I am applying when you ask me about “best.” Which in turn implies that my list of favorites are *actually* the ones I think are best, and the list of best anime is the list of anime I think I'm supposed to say are best. But on a sufficiently internalized, subconscious level that it results in me believing I like them best.

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  7. As your “X is best pony” posts demonstrate, there are so many potential definitions of the word “best” that I'm never entirely confident calling something the “best” because it sounds more objective than it is. “Favourite”, on the other hand, is not just openly subjective, it's something where I can be absolutely confident that my opinion is relevant because that's all I'm talking about. My favourite is the one I like most … at the moment.

    Having said that, I've always thought the best Discworld novel is probably Small Gods for the combination of Serious Issues and Pratchett humour (although I'm not sure if it's been eclipsed by Snuff). My favourite, however, is (currently) Guards! Guards! because dragons.

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  8. If I may, what do you mean by “narrative collapse”? I've tried to search for the phrase and I haven't found a good definition for it. Also, if its not too long an explanation, how are the last two episodes of Eangelion a narrative collapse? Does it relate to what many viewers perceive as “weirdnesss” in those episodes?

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  9. “Narrative collapse” is a term coined by Philip Sandifer in his TARDIS Eruditorum, initially to describe the impact the introduction of the Daleks had on Doctor Who. Generally speaking, “normal” conflict in a story threatens the well-being of the characters or their ability to accomplish their goals. A narrative collapse, on the other hand, is a conflict which threatens the ability of a long-form (usually serial) work to tell stories at all (and may or may not also threaten the well-being of the characters or their ability to accomplish their goals). Narrative collapses are usually (though not always) resolved, but always carry a heavy price, either for the characters or for the work itself.

    This is very much what happens in the last two episodes of Evangelion. Characters blend into one another and interact with the medium; the passage of time is distorted; the lines between character perception and “objective” camera framing are blurred. Third Impact makes it impossible for the show to continue telling a story, but ultimately Shinji is able to resolve the conflict by realizing that his feelings are created by him and thus he has to take ownership and responsibility for them. This ends the narrative collapse, but at the cost of ending the series, meaning all other conflicts must be left unresolved.

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  10. Thank you for your response! So it's not just a potential disruption of the status quo, but something that could end the story itself – is that about right?

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  11. Basically, yeah. A normal conflict might lead you to ask “How are they going to get out of this one.” A narrative collapse leads you to ask “How are there episodes after this?”

    Note that there are things other than narrative collapses which can provoke that response, though. Ending the main conflict of the series isn't in itself a narrative collapse, because it resolves a conflict rather than introducing one. That goes whether it's the protagonist or antagonist winning; either way it's a resolution, so even if that ends the series it's not a narrative collapse.

    Some other good examples of narrative collapse: Doctor Who, “The Chase,” the second Dalek story and the earliest example I know of. The series finale of Batman: The Brave and the Bold (a rare instance of an unresolved narrative collapse that actually kills the story). Friendship Is Magic, “The Return of Harmony,” not so much for the scenes of physical chaos as the fact that the villain can rewrite character personalities at a will, causing the Mane Six to stop being friends for half an episode. Pretty much the entirety of the Madoka Magica movie Rebellion.

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