“You Gotta Appreciate the Food” – Slice of Life as a Genre

In which I lead you through my process in defining a genre

That title isn’t a weird quip or framing device for this article, it’s a point my house mate raised whilst watching Sweetness and Lightning together. “It’s a Slice of Life, you have to appreciate the food”. The weeks running up to this comment I had been mulling over the inherent problems Slice-of-Life anime faces, especially to us western viewers. The chief of which is everyone having a different opinion about what it is. Not just about whether it’s good or not but about how to classify it as we don’t have such a genre established in the west. So in this post I’m going to attempt to explain it, hopefully……. Maybe.

So, let’s try the simplest approach. Word Definitions. Slice-of-Life, can literally mean an excerpt from life. So therefore a show in the slice-of-life genre is something that follows normal life. And that definition sort of works, but it also feels like something is missing. It makes the genre sound too pedestrian, too disinteresting, too generic and most importantly too broad. Technically any show can be defined as Slice-of-life via this definition as long as it justifies it’s self as displaying a normal life, for example take any Gundam series, it shows the passage of life in a world where giant robots fight in space and everyone accepts the fact and takes it as a normal day. By this definition this is Slice-of-Life. We find ourselves with a definition to broad, too much can and will fit into it. So we need to refine it.

Let’s turn to Wikipedia for our next attempt at having this done easily. A “mundane realism depicting everyday experiences”. Okay, so that’s a little better. Realism is the crucial word there that now grounds this genre in portraying situations that seem realistic to the audience. There we go, we’re done. Except. My Neighbour Totoro is a thing. A film which is unquestionably a Slice-Of-Life and there is nothing mundane or realistic about a giant forest spirit hanging out with two young girls.

So with that to fit I have to remove realism, and I find myself at the very beginning again. It seems like there’s no easy way to find this answer other than going through what makes a Slice-Of-Life anime. And at this point we will be dipping into a big old pile of opinion and generalisations

WHAT IS SLICE OF LIFE:

  • Simple
    • Not simple in that it’s lacking in character, plot or ambition. But that’s it’s simple in scope, it’s focused on a single point, this could be a small cast of characters or a particular setting. Perhaps Focused would be a better word.
  • Slow
    • In most cases due to being a chronological run through of people’s daily lives an episode will rarely cover a large amount of plot, opting instead for a small point or two per episode.
  • Character Driven
    • Running off the two previous points of slow plot but large cast of characters, it stands to reason that a slice-of-life show will put the focus on these characters. A main character is still recognisable however, often the first shown on screen.
  • Comedy
    • They will often feature jokes as a driving factor as well, to make up for slow plot. Reasons for this can vary from anime to anime, but a large chunk of adapted slice of life have their roots in Yonkoma style manga, where each page is structured like a joke, Set up, Delivery, Punch line. Once you know it’s there it’s easy to spot.

So at the end of that I put forward that the Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama”, and I could in theory leave it there. But I think it could do with some work. Let’s start with some discussion on setting, and see where that takes us.

SETTING IN A SLICE-OF-LIFE

My mind instantly hops to high school when I think of Slice-of-Life, thanks to the prominence of shows like “Toradora!” and “K-ON!” in the genre. It’s become synonymous with the genre to thing that slice-of-life is always in a high school. However, it’s at this point I get fussy and wave my almost finished media degree around the place. The high school is definitely a genre convention of Slice-of-Life but that doesn’t mean of course that every show is in a high school or set around one. Shows like “ServentxService” and “Wagnaria!” are both set around work places. Shows like “Flying Witch” and “Non-Non Byori” Draw more attention to the rural locals they are set in than a school and that’s even before I bring up shows like “Sweetness and lightning” and “Poco’s Udon World” that places a large focus on the characters that physically can’t go to high school due to being too young.

What I’m trying to say really, is that the setting of a slice of life is always mundane. But I hate that word in relation to this, it will act like a weight on the definition, making it sound boring. So at this point I bust out a thesaurus:

I find myself quite fond of quotdian meaning “occurring every day; daily.” But because I’m trying to make something that can be understood I think I should stick with something normal. That can be applied not just to a description of the common settings of slice-of-life but also its plot threads. “Everyday” seems to fit this bill. Shows are often set in an “everyday” environment and deal with the “everyday” events of the characters. Now to just slot that into the definition and see what we have.

The Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama fixed in everyday locals”

I think we are almost there. One little piece could do with being discussed, even if I find no way of slotting it into the definition.

WHY WE WATCH SLICE-OF-LIFE

This is probably the easiest thing to answer. Slice-of-life provides an effortless medium for the viewer to live vicariously through the characters. Taking joy in the familiarity of the situations on screen and drawing a bond with the character of their choice. It’s important to note that this is not quite the same as gaining voyeuristic pleasure from watching, there are distinct differences between Slice-of-Life and Harem anime the most obvious of which being the sexual content in the latter.

To include this in a definition of the genre is probably the missing piece of the puzzle. If we state it has vicarious tendencies then it suddenly means we can skim a lot off the top. The show has to be a believable realism. Just detached from our world enough to offer some form of contrivance, like the fact that only 4 girls seem interested in playing music in the whole school (K-ON!) or that witches exist (Flying Witch) or that the people working in Waganria can get any work done (Wagnaria!). Whilst we can say we can relate to a sci-fi space captain, we still feel a detachment from him that you don’t get when looking at a school student going to class. The screen is a lot thinner in slice-of-life. (To use an analogy I should’ve at the start to cut down on word count.)

TO STOP THE RAMBLINGS

So in conclusion I define Slice-of-Life as:

“Simple, slow moving, character focused drama. Fixed in everyday locales suited to vicarious living”

I’ll probably return to this at some point, and test it out on various shows to see if it does work. But seeing as I’m nearing on 1300 words I’ll leave it here for today.

Header image: Non Non Biyori

Your Name: Review

“A beautiful romance film that surronds the veiwers with Makoto Shinkai’s staple: Nostalgic melancholy, now refined”

This is going to be a blog of two halves. The first being a tame, spoiler free, review of Makoto Shinkai’s new film Your Name. The other half you’ll find at the end of this post in the form of a google link to a few more spoiler filled thoughts on both this film and its realtion to themes explored in 5 centimetres per second.

The reason for this is simple and quite obvious. This is a really good film, it’s well written and voiced. As well as being gorgeous. (Why does the east keep out pacing the west in terms of animation quality? It’s insanely unfair and maybe worth a future look) But its greatest strength, is that I went into this expecting something simple. I expected a kooky body swap story about a teenage boy and girl experiencing each other’s life’s freak Friday style. And I got that, but also a lot more.

The film centres on Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu, two high school students from different walks of life. Taki lives in Tokyo, holding down a part time job and living independently. Mitsuha lives in the country, wishing for a life in the city. The two discover, that for unknown reasons, what they thought were dreams were actually the pair swapping bodies intermittently. Both discover small comforts in each other’s life and make attempts to live normally, to some effect.

The first half hour of the film is by far its weakest point. It feels like they condensed three episodes of an anime into a fraction of the time, meaning it comes across as rushed. Story beats could’ve been fleshed out to create a better foundation for these two characters. On top of that, I had to re-watch two rapid time lapse sections in this first part just to get a decent grasp on what was happening. Once I had crossed the half hour point though the film gained its cohesion and finally found its footing.

Your Name serves as a touching love story framed soaked in a familair poingent melancholy that tugs at the veiwers nostalgia from beginning to end. So give this a go it’s another great outing for a great writer and director.

Spoiler discussion: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VzQt8fSK_i0UpbbIUN8ljp7NvHGBhitRE5xRtl6UFbA/edit?usp=sharing

Header image: https://wall.alphacoders.com/by_sub_category.php?id=239404

Adventures End: The Closing of the Cartoon Renaissance

“With a great pang in my gut, I guess I should start looking forward”

“Adventure time is ending in 2018” or words to that effect are what greeted me after coming back from a long day at university last week and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be happier. Now before people sharpen their pitchforks and light some torches hear me out. I absolutely love Adventure Time it’s a show that I started watching when it was only in its second season 6 years ago. It shifted my perception of cartoons, from something to be enjoyed to a form of study and placed me on the path I find myself now. It reminded me that I could be both a kid and a grown up, that cartoons were something I could keep watching even as I progressed into adulthood.

And it wasn’t just myself that this show seemed to affect, it has been a mark on pop culture ever since its release, finding a home across all age groups and across all media forms. It has become this living, breathing cross-platform behemoth. With episodes covering everything from loss, depression, existentialism, terror, horror,  young love, old love and even going so far as to display a young boy going through the trails of puberty with no guide but coming out the end a better person.

This is the Adventure Time I want to remember, a clever, cute, poignant show, that has successfully tapped into every emotion I had. And now that the announcement has come out of its end. Hopefully it’s the one that will leave us. I can’t have been the only person that noticed how tired this show has been getting. With the show hopping from plot point to plot point, setting up these ideas that could very well fuel half a season or more on their own which end up forgotten about in the next episode (consider this a teaser for a blog post about my issues with Adventure Time). Even the most recent season started on an incredibly strong note with the 8 part mini-series “Stakes” which was like a condensed chunk of everything Adventure Time has done great rolled into one amazing package. Before it returned to its sadly humdrum roots.

This brings me nicely to the title of this post. It is pretty easy to claim that it’s Adventure Time that started this “Cartoon renaissance” we have found ourselves in, with Steven Universe being, arguably, an off shoot of Adventure Times themes and general design philosophy (also helped by Rebecca Sugar being one of the best story boardists and writers they had before she moved to heading Stevens Universe) Shows like Gravity Falls appearing, proving that a show themed around never telling the audience everything can grip kids and adults alike. Whilst Over the Garden Wall, proves that a wickedly dark, macabre, gothic cartoon can reach prominence in todays landscape.

However, it isn’t really the announcement that Adventure Time will be ending 2 years from now that prompted me to discuss this in more depth, I was content to just say “good decision” and be done with it, saving it for a larger post later down the line. What makes me declare the true end of the Cartoon Renaissance is the loss of Regular Show which had the quite announcement that it will be ending within the next year on its 8th season. This comes a massive surprise because whilst I felt that Adventure Time has begun to stagnate, Regular Show continues to impress me with every episode I watch. Its 7th season was strong throughout, and the season 8 opener is a different approach to the shows themes but still manages to stay true to what made it great. Writing this I can’t actually think of a bad episode of Regular Show, sure there are some worse than others, but nothing I didn’t enjoy and it will be a true loss to see this strong show disappear.

However, a larger piece on Regular Show is something for another day. To wrap up this article that should’ve only a 300 word news roundup before I spoil a bunch of articles I have planned. Regular Show, is, in my opinion, the cartoon of the decade. Adventure Time ushered in the Cartoon Renaissance with a great display of colour and gusto, but it feels like Regular Show has been the one just slightly out of sight for the past few years, pushing the boundaries of what a cartoon can be ever so slightly further, when Adventure time made one giant leap every 10 episodes or so Regular show would be just ahead with almost every episode doing something new or different.

So with a great pang in my gut, I guess I should start looking forward to what fills the places of these two great shows. After the renaissance comes the enlightenment after all, so more should be on the way. Especially with a show like Steven Universe shining the way forward, We Bare Bears showing signs of growing into something more and Star vs The forces of Evil reminding me that whatever monkey runs the TV animation section of Disney has some taste it’s shaping up to be an interesting few years. Especially with Pendleton Ward soon to be free of the shackles of Adventure Time and I presume eager to start up something new.

Sources:
Regular Show ending: http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/cartoon-networks-regular-show-season-8-1201858474/

Adventure Time ending: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/adventure-time-season-9-finale-show-ending-a7338816.html

Header image: http://www.indiewire.com/2016/09/adventure-time-canceled-season-9-cartoon-network-1201731833/

 

Anime Fall Season: Top Picks

In which I attmept to Legitimise my Weebiness

Being one of those people with a shiny Crunchyroll subscription means I now actually pay attention to what anime is being released when. For those that don’t know anime is released in a quarterly format with new seasons popping up during each of the standard seasons. So Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This means that I will always have a guaranteed dump of new shows just in time for when my old ones run out, works out pretty well. However with so many new things dropping (roughly 60 shows by my brief count) it means I have to make decisions on what I want to focus on and seeing as I have a blog now I figure I should share my opinions with the world.

Let’s start with the obvious ones I know I will be sticking with, the sequel series’

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM IRON BLOODED ORPHAN

gundam.jpg

I absolutely loved the first season when it released and will undoubtedly get around to writing a comparison between it and 00 GUNDAM. But just briefly this is probably the most visceral GUNDAM I’ve seen, whilst most stuck with lasers and guns this show decided to feature close combat heavily which means the fights are turned up to 11. With great characters and a new setting it makes for a good underdog story. I would definitely recommend the first series (and 00 GUNDAM whilst I’m at it, that’s a really good one)

Its first episode is set to air on October 2nd                       

HIBIKE! EUPHONIUM 2

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Otherwise known as Sound! Euphonium is a slice of life show about an orchestra club which transitioned from a fairly standard example of the genre to a nicely developed romance between the main protagonist Kumiko and a band mate. Featuring some very nice music and great animation it was a nice show to chill out too. It’ll be interesting to see where the series goes though as it could quite easily be a rehash of the first season given how they ended it. The original is on my list to watch next in preparation for the sequel so I’ll probably have more musings on it in the future.

Its first episode will air on October 6th

WWW.WORKING!!

wwworking.jpg

The last of the sequels I plan on watching is one that isn’t technically a sequel. It’s a spin-off of one of my favourite anime that I discovered over the summer called WORKING (or Waganaria in the eastern tongue) which centres on the staff of a family restaurant all with over the top personalities. It’s a great example of Slice of Life and also comes with the perk that it tells a complete story with an ending thanks to having three seasons. This means I’m more motivated to see this show as it’s based on the spin off webcomic the creator made. Flags have already been raised however with some of the character designs looking eerily similar to characters in WORKING although hopefully it won’t work out like a re-hash.

Its first episode is set to air on October 1st

Now to get into the thick of it with the brand new stuff and thus maybe some actual reasons other than dedication to the show can be made to explain why I’m picking it up.

MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION

march comes in.jpg

And now I say that above statement I confess I chose this one simply because I recognised one of the previous things the creator worked on, HONEY AND CLOVER, a show I didn’t really get hooked on. But this seems exactly like my cup of tea, a slice of life focusing on the interactions between a reserved teenager on the cusp of adulthood and a set of 3 siblings he crosses paths with. It has slight wiffs of being this seasons “The One Everyone Should Watch” so it might be nice to get on that bandwagon first and act smug later seeing as I was slow to the ball with both One Punch Man and Re:Zero from the past to seasons.

Its first episode is set to air on October 8th

UDON NO KUNI NO KINIRO KEMARI

udon.jpg

Okay, now the actual opinions can start, sort of. This anime (I won’t keep writing out the name) focuses on a web designer that adopts a young boy and raises him. As a big fan of Usagi Drop (not the manga. That can burn) and Sweetness and Lightning its main plot thread already has my attention. Also from the trailer the little boy appears to turn into some sort of cute animal so hey, there’s a mystery there. Also it’s slice of life, and literally anything with that tag line I’ll take a look at just for curiosities sake.

Its first episode is set to air on October 9th

MONSTER HUNTER STORIES: RIDE ON

monster hunter stories.jpg

And now we’re instantly back to flimsy reasoning. I just really like the Monster Hunter series of games, so an anime seems like a no brainer. Although it appears to be a lot more kid friendly, focusing on people that tame the monsters not kill them, so I might just get bored of it and go back to playing the game. Might be nice to switch off too however.

Its first episode is set to air on October 2nd

VIVID STRIKE!

vivid strike.jpg

Okay, this one is a weird one and looks like it walks that thin line between possibly being really good or god awful. It seems to belong to that sub-genre of “Cute High School Girls Do….” Except in this case its street fighting guys three times their size. Note I’ve only watched the trailer for this show, done no other research but the fight scene they show is pretty good, so maybe it’ll have a story to back it up. I really only chose this one because the poster looked stupid and the lack of description peaked my interest. Should be good for a laugh if nothing else.

Its first episode is set to air on October 2nd

BERNARD-JOU IWAKA

book one.jpg

And finally we get to the last show I have picked out. It centres on a main character that really likes old literature but has never actually read them. Her two friends are set to be massive bookworms so I can already envision it putting a silly spin on them explaining books to her. At least I hope that’s the show I get, it definitely seems like it will be a comedy centric anime so fingers crossed for that.

Its first episode is set to air on October 7th

Well that’s it, out of the 60 or so shows I have chosen just 8, although I’m sure a few shows will squeak their way onto this list and others will disappear once things start to roll out. But for now this is it. My top picks for the season. I’ll do a follow up post next week to discuss what I thought and if anything else ended up here.

All information and pictures sourced from: https://myanimelist.net/anime/season
Header Sourced from: http://wallpapercave.com/my-neighbor-totoro-wallpaper
Hopefully all these shows will be made available on Crunchyroll and thus I can advertise some legal streaming of these shows here, but at the time of writing only WWW.Working is being made available with several shows still to be announced though I am optimistic.