What Show Is “The Best”? What Does That Even Mean?

What is the Best

Is it one of these, or is it something else entirely?

Hi everyone, Highway here! Last month Sumairii and I collaborated with Iso from Nabe! on an article discussing the relationships in Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai that had developed to that point. Since that article was at Iso’s site, this time we’re posting one here and it’s going to be a lot more general to anime than the last one. Basically, Fall 2012 is a great season for anime, and more than just that, it’s been a great season across the whole breadth of anime. There are great shows in all sorts of categories, from they psychological crime drama of Psycho-Pass to the  dystopic future devolved society of Shin Sekai Yori to great romantic shoujo in the semi-comedic Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun and the straight seriousness of Sukitte ii na yo to rom-com hijinks in Sakurasou no Pet no Kanojo and Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai and even to the action-moe-comedy of Girls und Panzer. And given the high quality of all of these shows, and the tendency of humans to want to make order of things, of course people want to determine “The Best”. So how can these even be compared? And is there any way that any sort of consensus could ever be made? So let’s get to the editorializing, starting with Iso!

Iso: Hello to one and all, readers of SushiGoKart! I’m Iso and I hail from Nabe!, the land of the Japanese hotpot (also an animeblog). Sumairii, Highway and I are have been attempting to collaborate to bring our combined audiences interesting editorials, and this is our second article thus far. I do hope that you enjoy reading this!

Iso: Moving on to today’s topic, we’re going to discuss how we decide what is the best anime each season (in accordance with our personal tastes, that is). After all, each season presents us with a different hodgepodge of anime, each with a different story to tell. Making comparisons between anime that belong to similar genres and/or take place in similar settings would be easy, but as most of us already know, that’s not the case for the diverse anime that each season has to offer.

What I believe most people – common folk like myself – use as a benchmark for determining what the best anime in each season is can be boiled down to the simplest essence of one sole factor: enjoyment. Therefore, we’ll need to break it down, which brings us to the question: What constitutes enjoyment? Certainly, enjoyment is something that cannot be quantified, and different anime can bring different types of enjoyment to the table; true enough, the enjoyment we derive from watching comedy, for example, is different from what we can get from watching something deep and dark. Aren’t we going back to square one then? Not really.

Highway: I think that enjoyment is a good place to start, and agree that the different types of enjoyment can engender completely different feelings in us. The thrills down your spine from waiting for the detective to find the bad guy… or the trap he’s laid out. The *gyuu* in your chest as the boy reaches down and puts his hand under the girls chin to raise her lips to his, finally closing that distance between them that’s existed since the first episode. Even the wonder you get when the opaque and confusing world that’s been painstakingly constructed finally clears up and you can see all the interconnections. How can we compare those different types of enjoyment? So then question is can it even be done, and should it be done?

Iso: So far, I believe that I have established my assumption that we use enjoyment to decide what’s “best”. Based on that assumption, I would believe that a common understanding that we share now is that if we can crack open the factor of enjoyment and get down to understanding the signs that we are enjoying anime, it would make it easier for us in deciding what the best anime is. Let us get down then, to identifying the little signs that we like an anime, which of course we often do not notice ourselves.

Below is a list of three “symptoms” that we tend to exhibit – sometimes without our own awareness – when we are enjoying an anime. As you will probably see, they are not so different from the feeling of being in love:

  1. You find yourself glued to the screen when watching an anime. You will try your best to free yourself of all distractions when watching the anime, and get extremely irritated and annoyed when something disrupts you. On the other hand, if you find that you’re not paying full attention to the anime and are instead texting your friends, doing homework or falling asleep, or even if you don’t mind pausing the video to run some errands, then probably you aren’t enjoying the anime enough.
  2. You cannot stop thinking about the anime even after each episode has ended. This is a sign that the plot or storyline progression of the anime has got you hooked such that you start mulling over what has happened over the course of the episode – or the whole anime thus far even – and you start considering the possibilities of how the story can move on from the current point. Naturally, the longer the period you find yourself thinking about an episode or a series, the more it has affected you emotionally. Similarly, if you find yourself scrolling through related wikis, fan art, forums for hours on end or talking about the anime a lot, that is definitely a series that is a worthy contender for the best anime of the season.
  3. You eagerly anticipate the release of the latest episode each week and voraciously “consume” the episode as soon as it is released, much like a ravenous, starving tiger (okay, that might have been a bit too dramatic). If circumstances forbid you from watching the anime as and when it is released, you regretfully postpone watching it to the earliest possible date and time. Anticipation is a sign that you’re taken a pretty good liking to the anime, so it should rank pretty high on your enjoyment scale. Likewise, if a series does not hold your interest sufficiently, you will think that it is fine to fall behind by a few episodes, or even place the series on hold.

Hopefully, awareness of these three “symptoms” will help us when it comes to making that choice of what we feel to be the best anime each season.

Sumairii: Highway and Iso have done a great job outlining just what factors are at play when we decide if a show is good or not. But the question of cross-genre comparison still remains. As previously mentioned, this season is a particularly good example of the dilemma. How do you compare shows of vastly different genres, if they all seem to do equally well in their own corner? Well to put it bluntly, you can’t. But perhaps that’s because the question is worded rather unfortunately. Let’s instead change it to “how do you compare shows of vastly different genres?” Then, the suggestive answer becomes rather apparent from the omission. There is no way you can fairly compare two shows of equal magnitude in their respective genres. Maybe if you prefer one genre over another, your opinion will be skewed in that direction, but that’s hardly a fair judgement (ie. the very definition of biased).

The playing field needs to be leveled, and the only consistently unbiased way I can see it being done is to separate the genres and rate them individually. Let’s take Psycho-Pass and Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai (hereby referred to as Chuu2koi) as our bread-and-butter examples. The two shows fall under two very clearly different genres: action-thriller and romance-comedy (rom-com), respectively. I’m sure a great majority would also agree that these shows are some of the better ones airing at the time of writing (fall 2012). A quick look at the MAL pages (again, at the time of writing) for both shows reveals that Psycho-Pass is rated a 8.02/10.00 while Chuu2koi is rated a 8.17/10.00. Does this mean that Chuu2koi is better than Psycho-Pass? I wouldn’t base such a judgement from these numbers. Instead, we’ll need to bring in the action-thriller “experts” to give a rating for Psycho-Pass and the rom-com “experts” to do the same for Chuu2koi. The “unadulterated” ratings given by those who enjoy and understand the specific genres can then be compared, but even then, I would hesitate to say that this is a 100% foolproof and fair comparison.

In the end, it’s very difficult to directly compare different genres because of their disparate styles and nuances. For instance, the warm and fuzzy feeling that probably signifies a rom-com is doing something right has no place in an action-thriller. My “solution” essentially involves merely filtering out all negative bias from the uninitiated while leaving in meaningful bias from “seasoned veterans” before comparing numbers (the fact that we’re letting a number represent our enjoyment of a show is already ludicrous enough). Think of it as filtering out noise from a signal, if you want. Obviously this doesn’t solve the posed problem of genres being different, but it does solve the similar problem of obtaining more “accurate” values for the respective shows, which can then be used for comparison. “Ah,” you think, “but how is this different from the typical rating you can find on MAL?” If “veterans” of action-thrillers who are unitiated in rom-com give Chuu2koi a bad rating while the reverse happens for Psycho-Pass, doesn’t it all balance out? Well, it does if there are an equal number of action-thriller fans and rom-com fans. Perhaps this is the case, but I wouldn’t count on it. If you remove the “population” factor though, all you’re left with is pure, (hopefully) meaningful ratings and reviews.

How can this be applied in practice? Well, perhaps a viewer’s rating on an aggregate site like MAL can be weighted by the number of shows in a genre he/she has watched. Yes, this again doesn’t directly solve the posed problem and also doesn’t guarantee 100% accuracy, but there should at least be some correlation between the number of shows in a genre someone has watched and the “reliability” of his/her opinions. Of course, if you’re observant you will realize that this method of “leveling the playing field” does not work on an individual basis. And this is rightly so. I find it highly unlikely for any one person to be so completely unbiased or to be so completely experienced with all genres that he/she is able to give fair ratings and comparisons of everything. So if you want to set out and compare shows from different genres, I’d advise you start by taking a look around. And even then, you might want to take your findings with a grain of salt.

Highway: I do think that Sumairii’s method is a good way of determining which shows are good examples of a genre, but I’m a little hesitant to allow only the most rabid fans of a genre to be picking the winners of that genre. While that works sometimes, other times it might leave out something that maybe isn’t ‘pure’ enough, or makes too many concessions to cross-genre viewers. For instance, if a horror show pulls its punches and cuts out the gore, is it a horror show anymore? The folks who love horror would rate it down, but it might be the kind of decision that makes it so many more people will watch it. I would even argue that the better examples of a type of show are the ones that can pull in even people who wouldn’t normally watch that kind of show.

But that doesn’t really get us much closer to the ‘best’. And I think that if one is going to insist on naming a ‘best show’ then it’s going to be a bit contentious, and it’s going to be based on the individual. And when you’ve got so many good shows, like we do this season – an embarrassment of riches – then there are going to be very disparate answers if you asked people. If we absolutely had to quantify it, maybe we go with something more like a ranked voting system, where instead of people just naming a ‘best’ show, they name their 3 best shows. kevo does this with his weekly Anime Power Rankings and a formal-ish poll like that might be the best measure of different things. Of course, like any poll it’s subject to bias of the voters, and it seems like a lot of work for him. But for a running measure of what’s popular, it’s a good start.

But for you to pick your ‘Best Show of the Season’? I think we gotta go back up to what Iso says: Which one did you enjoy the most. And I’ll add my own encouragement as well: Pick the one YOU like the most, and be proud of it. You like it, you enjoyed it, and you want to advocate for it. Because ultimately, you’re the one who watches what you want to watch. Don’t be ashamed of that. Because who is anyone else to tell you what anime you liked.

And the Hippo and Turtle teams

Actually, you know the best show is Girls und Panzer… <grin>

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