Saturday, January 31, 2009

:anime: Decade's Best…So Far (2008 Edition) :: Anime (Top 20) ::: Insight

For a fuller account of how the list was created and what thinking went into it, I strongly suggest reading last year's Insight, which covered it in an extensive and generalized manner. As this year's list is so close to the previous, it would be better to refer its behind-the-scenes feature instead of merely rehashing it here. Rather, this Insight will focus on why there was a lack of change, what works failed to make the Top 20 (or, in one case, even Honorable Mentions), and what the future may hold in the final installments for this decade...

The second edition of this Decade's Best series, having only started it last year, bears much a resemblance to its predecessor. The primary reason for this is that we are already nearing the end of the decade, and a number of the works present have had a longer scale of time to be judged on and compared to one another and others. Critical and popular opinions have also had a longer time to grow and solidify, meaning that any sudden or great change in the rankings would be less likely to happen than it would earlier or even halfway through the decade. Naturally, that means that newer works may have a harder time competing against these more established ones in obtaining a spot in the Top 20. The barrier-of-entry can be especially difficult when there are already a great number of quality titles among the 55 Honorable Mentions alone. This dilemma led me to designate a "Final Edition" of the list set to be revealed a year after the decade ends to give those shows a better chance. Through the tough competition, there were a few standout title which concluded in 2008 that where poised to make a crack at the upper echelon, though they ultimately did not make it (at least, for this edition...).

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion was one such series that strongly looked to take a place in the Top Ten or very near it. Its first season certainly met the set of criteria: it had the massive fan support and praise, garnered numerous awards, and I personally considered it to be one of the best of the decade. Its second season, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2, elicited a much different response, as a timeslot change forced its staff to make alterations to what was planned for the remaining 25 episodes of the series. Sentiments over the direction it went in and the storytelling greatly soured among the more vocal fans (though some of the criticism is warranted, I do think that it is overblown). While R2 still managed to gain many awards, I rather wait until more critical reviews are given before deciding if it deserves to be placed in the Top 20. Even if it does not, it is at the very least well-deserving enough of being listed among the Honorable Mentions.

Macross Frontier is another very popular series that had a chance at placing in the Top 20, but did not make it as far. It was a very big critical and commercial success, received many accolades, and captured a few awards and honors, as well. Indeed, it was well-received and I myself liked it very much, but I am hard-pressed to say outright that it was better than or as impactful as any of the top twenty works on the list, much less that it deservingly could displace one of them. This is not to say that it was an inferior show, but those titles were stronger, and the popular opinion hasn't pointed to it being beyond a very good or excellent series. It certainly had its flaws, and that makes it all the more difficult to justify it being there. However, one can take some solace in knowing that it, like Code Geass, is very close to the group.

The exclusions of these two outstanding shows from the Top 20 only underscores how tight the competition is. Among them alone, RahXephon was the only change (from #3 to #6) due to some long thought-out reconsideration. CG and MacrossF weren't alone, as other strong contenders such as Dennou Coil, Fruits Basket, and Planetes, aren't listed there despite their excellence. One notable exclusion from even the 55 Honorable Mentions is Gunslinger Girl. Its situation mirrors that of Code Geass', in which negativity over its second season ("Il Teatrino") spoiled the chances created by its much-lauded first season. In GG's case, the dropoff and divergence of opinion was uniform and significant enough to keep it out, leaving it in a sort of Macross Frontier-esque limbo. Decade's Best takes into consideration a work's entire story at hand as so to properly justify calling it "the best" among its peers. It has to be at top-form throughout, whether it crosses over formats such as movies and OVAs or across different studios and staff. This is why sequels and seasons are often counted and listed along with each title where appropriate.

The 2009 edition of Decade's Best, the penultimate version of the list, may very well see a continuation of the current "holding pattern". However, I have been eyeing one particular title in the Honorable Mention section that has a strong possibility of finding itself somewhere in the Top 20. Which title remains a secret, but I have thought about it ever since I first created the list and realized that it has a very compelling and credible argument. That, of course, would also mean that one of the twenty would be relegated to the lower fifty-five...

Lastly, 2008 saw no emergence of an "epoch maker"--that one body of work that defines the decade and/or redefines its genre. Code Geass looked quite close to being that one, but it appears not to be so for the time being. Yet, as I said before, most of the others came when least expected...

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