FEATURE: Slice-of-Life Anime Offer a Wide Variety of Themes for Everyone to Enjoy
This season has been offering sumptuously animated productions in a wide variety of genres and slice-of-life is no exception. Between the soothing Do It Yourself!! and the riotous BOCCHI THE ROCK!, slice-of-life fans are undoubtedly eating well this season, with the two shows respectively embodying the atmospheric and comedic far ranges of the genre. In truth, the variety of shows we tend to designate as “slice-of-life” actually encompass a wide array of subgenres, ranging from lighthearted character dramas to comedies to almost wholly atmospheric productions where the setting is as crucial as any of the characters. Whether you’ve been tempted into slice-of-life by this season’s top-notch productions or are a long-time enthusiast, today I’ve got a pile of recommendations encompassing the far reaches of the field. Let’s explore!
Let’s begin with some close relatives of Do It Yourself!’s brand of cozy. The show is a top-notch example of slice-of-life’s iyashikei or “healing” subgenre, featuring shows that are most principally focused on establishing a warm, comforting atmosphere. The exact specifics of that atmosphere are up to the production at hand; ARIA the ANIMATION presents a glorious vision of Venice recreated on the surface of Mars, while Non Non Biyori finds both beauty and serenity in the Japanese countryside. If you’re looking to lay back and let some soothing everyday adventures massage the worries from your mind, both of these are excellent picks.
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Shifting over toward BOCCHI THE ROCK!, there are also plenty of slice-of-life shows that trend toward more laugh-out-loud comedy, mixing their soothing elements with some sharper punchlines. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in luck: Kyoto Animation has dedicated a substantial portion of its remarkable catalog to this combination and its directors’ instincts for both comedy and atmosphere are second to none. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an alternately hilarious and heartwarming testament to their talents, and if you want more comedy, the first season of Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club is one of the most charmingly irreverent shows in their roster.
While we’re on the topic of Kyoto Animation, perhaps their most impressive productions are those that meld the pacing and intimate character focus of slice-of-life productions with just a touch of narrative momentum, walking the line between atmosphere and character drama. The coming-of-age story Hyouka is, in my opinion, the best of these works, and frankly one of the most singularly impressive productions in the medium. Gorgeous, thoughtful, and all-encompassing in its late-afternoon atmosphere, Hyouka is a must-see production. If you’re hooked by Hyouka, Sound! Euphonium is an easy follow-up recommendation.
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Getting back to more conventional slice-of-life productions, there are also plenty of shows that split the difference between atmosphere and comedy, offering reasonable helpings of both. This split is demonstrated quite literally by Laid-Back Camp, which actually segments itself into comedy-focused clubroom shenanigans and quiet, reflective camping excursions, where you can almost feel the chill of the late autumn air. If you’re looking for more of a summer-themed adventure, you could try Barakamon, which involves an irritable young calligrapher getting attuned to the natural rhythms of the world on an island getaway. Then there’s Dagashi Kashi, which alternates its time between ludicrous snack food-based gag sequences and evocative elaborations of the dog days of summer when the heat bears down and the distractions are few.
One of slice-of-life’s more unique subthreads is also one of my favorites: the “post-apocalyptic travelog,” shows that combine the everyday concerns of slice-of-life with the looming end of the world. One of the well-deserved hits in this field is Kemono Friends, which combines an irreverent safari trip with a slowly building supernatural threat. Kemono Friends’ director Tatsuki would go on to create the similar and equally engaging Kemurikusa, but for another take on this subgenre, you could also check out the charming, melancholy Sound of the Sky, or the beautiful eulogy that is Girls’ Last Tour.
Even after having run through all these recommendations, there are still whole subfields of slice-of-life left to extol, like the genre’s excellent string of father-daughter bonding shows (try sweetness & lightning for one great example). And I haven’t even gotten into the modern genre’s historical forebears; any slice-of-life fan would surely like Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service or Isao Takahata’s extraordinary adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. Anime’s dedication to intimate, atmospheric, and small-stakes stories is one of the medium’s most unique and laudable qualities, and I’m always on the hunt for more shows that celebrate the incidental beauty of the world around us. I hope you’ve found a show or two that catches your eye among my recommendations, and please let me know all your own favorite slice-of-life productions in the comments!
Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time or follow him on Twitter.