I have to be honest: When I first started watching anime, I was drawn to the shows that were fantastical, that involved magic, different dimensions, futuristic worlds, or mecha. Whether it was the ability to manipulate natural elements, mold chakra, recite spells, perform superhuman feats, or interact with and drive a really cool piece of machinery, it was these kinds of shows that interested me. And only these shows.
There were a couple of shows here and there – like K-On!(!) and Arakawa Under the Bridge – that caught my attention but they were, to me, the exception (that and Arakawa wasn’t exactly ‘slice of life’). For some reason, my general rule (not just for anime, but books as well) has always been that stories about everyday life did not interest me. If there was a possibility that whatever I was reading or watching could be happening somewhere else in the world, then I pretty much wouldn’t give it a second thought. This year, however, changed everything. Starting with Hanasaku Iroha and AnoHana in Spring, I found myself following shows about regular life; about coming of age, love stories (and triangles), and the test of true friendship. All without magical girls or ninjas or fabulous machines. Spring was followed by Summer which brought us Ikoku Meiro no Croisée which was a cute show, but over shadowed by the ever popular (and oh so good) Usagi Drop. And now, in Winter, I find myself watching not one, not two, but three ‘slice of life’ shows.
Now admittedly, Hanasaku wasn’t the most spectacular of shows, and definitely not the most memorable of the year, but it started well and ended well. AnoHana was heavy on the mystery, drama, and teenage angst; and while it kept me waiting for each episode to air week by week, I found the end lacking. But the heart of the story – the love story between Jinta and Menma – was the real gold in the story: it was touching to watching Jinta come to terms with how he felt and in dealing openly with Menma’s death with the other people who also shared that burden. (Now I hope, despite Menma being a ‘ghost’ of sorts, that AnoHana still counts as a slice of life.)
The three ‘slice of life’ shows I’ve been watching this season are a bit different than the likes of Hanasaku and AnoHana though; whereas those two Spring shows had a good deal of drama and angst in them, two of the shows from Winter – Tamayura Hitotose and Kimi to Boku – have zero drama, zero angst, and seemingly zero point. And yet, I find both delightful to watch. I’d admitted that I hadn’t particularly liked Tamayura’s OVAs and had only watched the first episode or two out of curiosity. Well ten episodes later (I know; I’m behind!) and I’m still watching. And while nothing exciting ever happens, there’s a softness and a gentleness to the cast of characters and their individual stories that’s just sweet. Now I know there are some people who can’t stand watching shows where insufferably nice girls are insufferably nice to other insufferably nice girls, but I feel like there’s much, much more to Tamayura Hitotose: it’s almost like watching cotton candy being spun. It’s just… happy. It’s heart-warming. It’s nostalgic. And it gets to you in a way that only something that simple can get to you. I personally find it quite refreshing too. I mean, as a girl, I wouldn’t say that my close group of girlfriends and I are always that nice to each other, but in many ways, we aren’t much different.
Kimi to Boku, however, isn’t about girls, but about guys. In the words of Thaivu: “Cute boys doing cute things”. There are no cliff hanger endings or weird plot twists with Kimi to Boku; these boys don’t fight (it’s more like… bickering), pervertedly chase skirts, play sports or pranks, or go on wild adventures. Watching the first few episodes, I wasn’t sure I could get into this show, but somehow I lasted until episode Seven, and it was in that episode – that moment when Yuta reached forward to wipe Takahashi’s tears – that I got hooked, because despite the lack of anything happening for the most part, the show had some heart to it, and while I’m sure lots of people saw it coming, I was surprised; as if I didn’t think Kimi to Boku could pull off a scene or story like that. A lot more nothing has happened since that episode but I’ve learned to find and focus on the little moments that really make the show, those little bits of heart woven into each episode and story.
Last but not certainly not least is Chihayafuru. This show – in my honest and personal opinion – is amazing. It took an obscure traditional Japanese card game that has heavy cultural roots and linguistic dependencies, turned it into a sport that just about anyone could enjoy, added a love triangle, some new friends, and made it one of the best shows of the year. When I first read about Chihayafuru, I had no idea what Karuta was, no idea what the show was about, and didn’t know what to expect, but after just one episode, I was more than intrigued. The show took its time to introduce each character – even the side characters and characters passing through the story line, and it lays the groundwork for promising character development and relationship building. The interchanges between Karuta, romance, and friendship are seamless, and each depend on the other for strength and believability. The show is so good at pacing and balancing all the different things going on that every episode just breezes by and it leaves you not just dying to watch the next episode, but guessing what might or might not happen next, what relationship they’ll focus on, which character they’ll develop, who they’ll meet and compete against, and when Chihaya will finally reunite with Arata.
It’s been a good year for ‘slice of life’ anime and I say that as someone who never really took an interest in that genre before. I may have missed some very good ‘slice of lifes’ from before this year, but I think that the shows that aired this year were a good place to start, a good place to get hooked, and a good way to make me pay more attention to ‘slice of life’ in general. I may still prefer to watch magical girls fight it out, or penguins cook, but I certainly won’t be overlooking any ‘slice of life’ animes that come along in the future anymore.