2022’s Winter anime season came and went pretty fast but it was an enjoyable one nonetheless.  Out of the many shows that aired during the weekends over the last twelve weeks, it was the slice-of-life anime that stood out from the rest for me.  This season led to the emergence of a mini-phenomenon that many others and I have labelled ‘Slice-of-Life Saturdays’ or ‘Sakuga Saturdays’ alternatively.  Two special anime aired together on this day, namely My Dress-Up Darling and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, forming the ‘CloverWorks Hour’.  But what exactly draws fans of the genre, like myself, to events like ‘Slice-of-Life Saturdays’ or shows of a similar nature in the first place?  To answer this question, we have to explore the joy of immersing oneself in different ways of life and the alternative approaches to conflict that the genre takes.

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What makes daily life worth watching?

From the outside looking inwards, the slice-of-life genre may sound a tad mundane.  Maybe that is due to the fact many of our own lives revolve around repetitive cycles of work, school or both at the same time.  This perception is understandable when it comes from somebody who has little connection with the genre but I would still argue that this is a pretty uncharitable interpretation.  The best pieces turn each day into an event to look forward to, with challenges, encounters and opportunities waiting around every corner.

However, what counts as a ‘challenge’ is entirely dependent on whoever’s life you choose to follow.  Each work comes with its own set of insights by virtue of observing a unique set of characters who possess distinctive perspectives on the world around them.  The curiosity to find out what these perspectives are all about is what I believe made ‘Slice-of-Life Saturdays’ and specifically ‘CloverWorks Hour’ the mini-phenomenon they were this season.  Both Akebi’s Sailor Uniform and My Dress-Up Darling gave us an insight into individuals that are likely to lead different lives from our own, be it Wakana Gojo’s craft in making Hina dolls or Akebi Komichi’s fun life in the countryside.  The differences between us and the characters on-screen are what pull us in and keep us watching each week.

My Dress-Up Darling excels at engrossing us in the fundamentals and technicalities of cosplay.  Besides the things I had heard in passing within anime-related social circles, cosplay was not an area that I knew much about prior to watching the show.  Completing the twelve episodes did not make me an expert or anything remotely close to one but I finished the show as a more knowledgeable person compared to when I first started it.  General queries such as ‘what do people find so appealing about cosplay?’ and more specific ones like ‘what effect does backlighting create for ‘x’ shoot?’ are all addressed in a charming, accessible fashion that gives the uninitiated a reason to emotionally invest in the world of cosplay.  Not once did I feel bored while watching Marin and Gojo’s antics because their daily interactions with the hobby were consistently insightful, leading me to gain a modest interest in a niche that I was formerly in the dark on.  Despite being restricted to the realm of fiction, the slice-of-life genre of anime gives us the opportunity to learn about unfamiliar pastimes, occupations and lifestyles through the characters who are immersed in them .  A great slice-of-life anime does not depend on being relatable but instead focuses on turning unfamiliar perspectives into exciting ones that many of us can enjoy.

But where’s the conflict? 

Works in the slice-of-life genre are sometimes deemed as completely ‘conflictless’.  In my view, this only flattens both the idea of what conflict is as well as the genre itself.  Not all slice-of-life anime are free of conflict — it is just that some of these conflicts are not entirely apparent on the surface.  To get to grips with this idea, it is important to expand our notion of conflict beyond the protagonist-antagonist paradigm, as this is only one of the ways they manifest.  Series that were part of the ‘Slice-of-Life Saturday’ line-up such as My Dress-Up Darling and Salaryman’s Club contained conflicts that were more familiar to us, like the clash between introverted and extroverted individuals or the balancing act one has to perform when pursuing a passion alongside holding down job or having a busy home life.  The dynamics of conflict are still present but are often woven into the day-to-day lives of the cast, making its plot beats engaging and even relatable at times.

The adaptation of Shion Miura’s novel The Great Passage, directed by Toshimasa Kuroyanagi, is one of my favourite examples of an embedded, abstract conflict within the genre.  The cast, consisting primarily of employees working for a publishing company, struggle against one of the few inescapable things in life — time. While the crew works on a new dictionary over the course of many years, their lives continuously change, presenting new challenges for the editing process.  The Great Passage teaches us an invaluable lesson to embrace conflict with time that we are all wrapped up in and use the experience we gain over time to help people other than ourselves.  The conceptual conflicts that are regularly explored in the genre are the launchpad for its inspiring teaching moments, allowing works to go beyond being stories about day-to-day life and become moving pieces of fiction that resonate with us long after watching them.

With that considered, a lack of stakes or an easily identifiable conflict in some slice-of-life shows is what makes them appealing but for different reasons than you might expect.  Besides the comforting vibe that they can provide, low-stakes anime also holds the potential to be extremely captivating and unnerving, depending on the context.  To me, the short anime adaptation of Hitoshi Ashinano’s manga Yokohama Shopping Log embodies this perfectly.  Set in a post-apocalyptic yet pleasant edition of Yokohama, the day-to-day lives of its residents are fascinating to observe across all four episodes.  The world around robot and café owner Alpha Hatsuseno is at peace, evoking feelings of relief and unease simultaneously.  The slow, easy-going life of the lead character, which often revolves around indulging her senses in nature, has a dimension of absurdity to it mainly because it feels too peaceful at times.  Although watching Alpha find the beauty in the remnants of a fallen society was a beautiful experience for me, it was its peculiar nature that made me think twice about my idea of ‘conflictless’ anime.  Before judging slice-of-life shows of this kind, it is key to think about how their lack of conflict shifts how you engage with it. 

As laid back as Yokohama Shopping Log is, the element of mystery it comes with makes it even more intriguing.  The series builds out its world in an ‘opaque’* fashion, in the sense that the surroundings of Alpha are usually revealed to us for the first time when we explore them with her.  On top of this, Alpha’s very existence as an android and her daily activities are shrouded in mystery too.   Our natural curiosity to inquire into the lives of others and compare them to our own is what makes the undisturbed, yet rather uncanny lives of characters like Alpha so captivating.  Works like that omit conflict from their structures hold the same ability to be compelling and captivating as ones that put it at their core – slice-of-life anime of this variety are a testament to this idea.

This genre is by no means a monolith, thus each anime welcomes its audience into its fold differently and has its own methods of dealing with the notion of conflict.  This is exactly why I have not grown tired of it after so long; every life depicted in a show is unique, even if it is marginally so, meaning that there are a fresh set of daily rhythms, obstacles and people to lose oneself in.  During a time where many of our lives are still being disrupted by forces beyond our control to some extent, the ‘Slice-of-Life Saturday’ collection or the ‘CloverWorks Hour’ duo offer us fictional lives to jump into that move to a different beat from our own.  On top of this, great slice-of-life stories transform lives into events of their own, converting daily problems into mini-narratives that we can look forward to and lessons that we can learn from.

Notes:

*Term used by former gaming journalist Kirk Hamilton on the ‘Elden Ring and Open-World Games’ episode of the podcast, ‘Triple Click’, to describe the mysterious nature of certain open-world video games.  I found that this was a useful term for articulating Yokohama Shopping Log’s approach to world-building.  The title for this article was also inspired by the podcast’s series of ‘what’s the deal with’ episodes.

 

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform (2022) – CloverWorks TV anime, dir. Miyuki Kuroki.  Original manga by Hiro.

 

My Dress-Up Darling (2022) – CloverWorks TV anime, dir. by Keisuke Shinohara.  Original manga by Shinichi Fukuda.

 

Salaryman’s Club (2022) – Original LIDENFILMS TV anime, dir. Ami Yamauchi.

 

The Great Passage (2016) – Zexcs TV anime, dir. Toshimasa Kuroyanagi.  Original novel by Shion Miura

 

Yokohama Shopping Log (1998) / Yokohama Shopping Log: Quiet Country Cafe (2002) – Aija-Do OVA series, dir. Takashi Anno (1998) & Tomomi Mochizuki (2002).  Original manga by Hitoshi Ashinano.

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