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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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