We continue our discussion on the rhetoric of talking about anime...
If you were around for last week's Aniwords, you'll remember that we zeroed in the word "best" in the context of talking about the "best anime of 2015." If you haven't read last week's column, I definitely recommend you check it out, as we'll be moving straight ahead from there this week. But, in summary, the core of the idea I was talking about related to the difficulty of collectively deciding on what "best" even means, despite the fact that we all usually have a vague idea of what we want it to mean when we say something was the "best." And as we explored that concept, we also looked at the inherently exclusive nature of assigning the label of "best" to something. As someone in the comments said last week, this is a discussion on a discussion—and, if you so choose to further the conversation in the comments this week, you'll be discussing that discussion. But I'd argue that we aren't just indulging in this for fun—being aware of the implications of our words is important, because in thinking about our own, we may think of others' more. And that kind of understanding is always a good thing.
So, on the docket this week: "favorite."
I was pretty studious last week about using only the word "best" when talking about shows that topped people's lists as, well, the best anime of top 2015. And there's a reason I did so. I think the difference between calling something the "best anime" of 2015 and your "favorite anime" of 2015 is big. It's even right there in the way I phrased the descriptions of them. The best anime. Your favorite anime. Unlike "best," the word "favorite" carries with it an personal association. Favorites don't exist in a vacuum, they belong to something or someone—and, thus, manage to evade some of the more complicated implications of "best."
While I touched on the exclusivity of "best" last week, one thing I didn't get around to was the implied sense of objectivity that often comes with "best." I see this as more or less an extension of the exclusivity thing, just on a wider scale than personal inclusion and exclusion. When I state that "Cowboy Bebop is the best anime ever," nothing about that statement carries any sort of personalized disclaimer. Although often the idea behind this is "I think Cowboy Bebop is the best anime ever," it rarely comes out that way. And this is where "favorite" differs from "best" in a significant way. By nature of its association with a person who has the "favorite," it implies the personal grounding that "best" lacks. Even if someone were to say, "the favorite anime of the year was..." the use of "favorite" in this context implies that there's still someone (perhaps a group of people) to whom the favorite belongs.
And so, "favorite" as a word to describe the anime we like offers us a couple of unique traits that "best" doesn't.
First, it generally lacks the implication of objectivity, certainty, or immutability that "best" has. Secondly, as we've discussed, it's necessarily connected to the idea of belonging to someone. And, third (and this one is less stable as a rule than the others), "favorite" is somewhat less exclusive a term that "best" is. If you disagree on that point, feel free to do so—indeed, there's a reason some people make lists of "best" things, and others may have one single favorite anime.
But while there are definitely individual exceptions, I'm thinking more along general lines of common understanding. "Favorite" just doesn't have the same sort of finality to it that "best" does, and I think it comes back to this idea of belonging to a specific person (or group or whatever). As discussed last week, there's a lot of division that comes out of talking about the top shows of any given year. I don't necessarily mean in terms of conflict, but simply in terms of people choosing different things. In a word, "taste."
Now, I know I wrote an column titled "Don't Talk about Your Favorite Anime," so consider this next statement a matter of degree. I like "favorite" much better as a word to talk about anime we like than I like "best." Although there's definitely a sense of satisfaction in crowning a show "one of the best," I think the sense of ownership that "favorite" creates is both more authentic and that it's better for creating discussion (because of the invitation into the personal that it implies) makes it the superior choice. You can't call something your favorite with it being yours. And because "favorite" lacks the sort of objective pretense of "best," it really means that all the walls of your personal distance are down. It's a vulnerable sort of word that demands not a defense, but simple affection. "I just like it," isn't much of an explanation for calling something the best. But "just liking" your favorites? I think that's something most people can much more readily understand.
And that's a neat thing.
So, as always, the question is: so what? Maybe "favorite" is a better word than "best." Okay. So we should never use the word "best" ever again? Is that where we're going with this?
Not really! If you've read all this and still want to use the word "best" to describe anime you like, that's fine! All I've really wanted to do with these two columns is to get you thinking about the deeper implications of the words we use here in the anime fandom. "Best" is a word. "Favorite" is also a word. But behind both of them stretch long tendrils of unspoken, hidden meanings. And those meanings, whether we realize it or not, are always going to have some sort of effect on our conversations with people when we talk about the anime we think are good or bad or in between. And if we can remember that when someone starts to get a little bit heated in the middle of a conversation, we just might be able to better understand why. Or something like that. Like I said, friendship is the best anime.
So, in lieu of talking about the "best" anime of 2015, what was your "favorite" anime of 2015? Does it make a difference to you? Let your voice be heard in the comments.
#1. I'm taking a trip (for work, not play) to Florida next week, sothere will be no Aniwords on January 11. However, the Favorites feature will be happening staring Friday of this week so you'll have that to tide you over—check out last year's installment and get excited!
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to the Fandom Post and sometimes hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.