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‘Slice of Life’ – Catharsis at Worst (In-Depth)

Since starting my journey through the world of anime, Slice of Life has always been at the forefront of my viewing experience. It’s not that I prefer it to other genres; as with film, music, literature, as long as the subject and narrative itself appeals to me, the genre and themes are of no consequence. Enjoyment and value, I don’t think they should be marginalised by arbitrary self-defining rules.

Who gives a fuck if I enjoy romantic comedies…?

Yeah… my all-time favourite film is (500) Days of Summer… bite me bitches!

Romance novels… Hell YEA!!

What is Slice of Life?

Slice of Life doesn’t solely exist within the world of anime. Of course, it has become synonymous with it. Nonetheless, the formula it is based on exists widely elsewhere, even if under different names.

Slice of Life originated in theatre and literature: In theatre it refers to an organic, natural representation of ‘real  life,’ where the depiction of occurences would be ‘everday,’ straying away from the more surreal and inexplicable situations that theatre often embodies. In literary terms, Slice of Life refers to the style of the narrative, whereby the readers are offered a segment of a characters’ life which is seemingly arbitrary, and lacking in coherency, and or a concrete plot. Focusing on character interaction and relationships over the development of an intricate storylines and complex, intertwined narratives.

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Toradora!’s Cast

Slice of Life in anime borrows from both of these examples, often thrusting us into a rather loose, open-ended plot. Though, where it can divert is on the focus of ‘reality.’

My favourite slice of life is, without a doubt: Seinfeld

No, honestly, it is!

Making the Abnormal, Normal

Though slice of life is considered the most ‘real’ of anime, the worlds and the characters that often populate them can hardly be considered normal. And, of course, being Slice of Life does nothing to avoid common tropes and clichés – though, not that they necessarily need to. Many of your character archetypes still exist in droves. And yet, the characters themselves are usually highly three-dimensional. Often having, deep, well-constructed personalities, with real traits you might find in a living, breathing human.

Ultimately, there has to be something to pull you in, a ‘hook.’ For many viewers, the idea of naturalistic situations, and the ambiguous dullness that comes with the mundanity of everyday life, it’s hardly the most exciting of prospects. Though for some – like myself – it is very enjoyable. I take pleasure in seeing the characters pull through conflict, both interior and exterior; whilst they craft relationships, and overcome the challenges that stem from them.

For others who are not so engrossed by those things, this is where Slice of Life often takes a step away from its theatrical and literary origins. Chuunibyou is a great example of this. We are offered a reasonable and relatable narrative within a world that is surrealist and exotic in nature. Other examples include, Beyond the Boundary or Mushishi, which are both Slice of Life, yet contain fantasy elements that distuingish them, adding flare. Whereas a more grounded, traditional take is Welcome to the N.H.K, whose focus is entirely on one person (oh… Satou!) as he struggles to beat back the darkness of being a recluse.

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Mushishi’s Somber World

Slice of Life is a broad genre, in fact, it can apply to almost anything. Take a certain character, create a personal conflict in an otherwise daily-life setting, and a not-so-concrete resolution – and there you have it, Slice of Life. It can be overlayed with pretty much anything. That’s what I love about it, it’s impossible to have pre-determined expectations and judgements, because the canvas can be painted in infinite ways. The creators have all the power at their fingertips. If there’s a theme/focus you particularily enjoy, then no doubt there’s a Slice of Life anime that fits the bill. All you have to do is look hard enough.

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The Appeal of Slice of Life

For so many years I have lived an isolated life, out in the cold country of Northern England. I’ve had so little social interaction, so few experiences to define who I am. At twenty I’m still a blank sheet – well, more or less, there are a few things scattered here and there within my soul, but none worth mentioning. Of course, there are things that make up who I am, but to myself, they’re nothing more than ambiguities drifting in a cool Autumn breeze – maybe some day they’ll come to settle on the ground, where I can pick them up, examine them to my heart’s content. Until then, there’s always Slice of Life…

I often find it hard (not impossible) to become engrossed in worlds that are overtly fantasy, those that are eccentric and ridiculous by nature. It’s not that I can’t accept those esoteric settings and genres, only they so often come with such tangled narratives; thin strings holding the frail parts together in favour of action and fanservice. At best we get a few lines of character exposition and backstory. At least, for me, this rings true with anime more than any other forms of media, (I’m sure there are exceptions, I’d love to know them!?) In this sense, Slice of Life appeals to me as a collective. Not because I implicitly idolise it, but because it brings to the table certain things I’m unable to find elsewhere.

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Chuunibyou – Slice of Life at its best

In its purest form, you could say that my indulgence in Slice of Life is nothing more than escapism – I can’t currently have/feel those things in my life, so I’m implored to outsource them, to garner the feelings through anime, literature, film… etc. Is that a destructive behaviour,? No, I don’t think so. So long as it is not relied on, so long as it does not become a safety behavior, (see, therapist, I do listen in those sessions!!!)

In some regards, there is stigma surrounding Slice of life, especially from long-time anime enthusiasts. And considering its growing popularity – more and more of it appearing as each season passes, there is a trend towards trivialising it, regarding it as worthless, a waste of space that could otherwise be filled with more ‘active’ shows. But, what is worth? Worth certainly isn’t an objective matter. Each person applies to differently to all things they value. For myself, and many others, Slice of Life is right at the top of that. It’s because of the character interactions, and the chilled-out narrative, the true-to-life feelings and the in-depth meaning that’s often a product of that.

So, It’s A Matter of the Human Condition?

In some respects, it is. On a deep level, every person needs interaction, or… at least every person needs to think that is what they’re getting from time to time. Anyone who’s seen Castaway knows what happens if there’s a void of it. Of course, this isn’t the case for all who watch Slice of Life. There’s an element of enjoyment, as there is with all media consumption, and for – I suppose – most, this is certainly enough to warrant a click of the play button.

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The masterful Welcome to the N.H.K

What is about being throw into another’s ordinary life that is so attractive?

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That’s a hard, personal, and subjective question to answer…

There’s something fantastical about experiencing life vicariously, living through something that would otherwise be impossible. With anime, you could say it’s significantly more controversial than such behavior is with other forms of media. It’s hard to be sure whether this is because of the rightfully controversial themes some anime often portrays, or whether it is a unwarranted accusation of an unaccepting society. Nevertheless, everybody understands that wanting to leave themselves and momentarily enter the mind of another, is a universal thing; people think and worry about it each and every day. Slice of Life is simply an extension of that which already exists.

That’s what it’s always been about, right back to the origins of storytelling: from Homer, to Shakespeare, to Hitchcock… to anime. It’s the way things are, humans have the intrinsic desire to live/view different lives occasionally, in the same respect, we all need to dream, no matter how absurd and unachievable they might be. It’s just, Slice of Life is a lot closer to home than others are. It’s easy to take comfort in this, because it could be real if it were nothing more than moving pictures on a screen. It’s far easier to relate to, to feel something meaningful towards.

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Anime is often seen in a murky light, outside of what is widely accessible. The charts are driven by action-focused narratives, without grounding in the real world. And to praise Slice of Life, is not to degrade them – of course each genre has its attractions and drawbacks. Yet, I think Slice of Life is the driving force behind the world of anime narrative, of character-drama, and the often meaningful explorations of subjects that cannot be found elsewhere in the medium.

So, go out there, and watch some Slice of Life… you never know, it might very well be just your thing.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! I really do appreciate constructive criticism.

-Chris <3

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7 thoughts on “‘Slice of Life’ – Catharsis at Worst (In-Depth)

  1. Kendra Ressler says:

    I only just watched “Welcome to the NHK” this year and I love how it could be funny, heart-felt, shocking and thought-provoking all at the same time. That’s what makes Slice-of-Life genre so great, it can be serious but it also can have fun as well.

    • Chris says:

      I agree, very well said. It really is a masterpiece in anime! Welcome to the NHK personally means a great deal to me. That balance between comedy and painful situations is something to behold. Thank you for coming by and reading! 🙂 🙂

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