I wanted to write one more article for some of the great summer anime of this year, and decided I’d compare and contrast three of my favorites–which all happened to be slice-of-life shows! Whenever you’re in the mood for an anime that’s a little quieter than the rest (AKA not too dramatic or silly), it’s nice to watch a series like Natsume Yuujinchou San, Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, or Usagi Drop!
What constitutes slice of life, and why is this particular genre so prevalent in anime and manga? Generally the stories are episodic, and deal with everyday characters doing everyday things–but this is just a broad definition. In terms of literature, there isn’t supposed to be much plot or character development, and there isn’t much in the way of conflict. The point of the story isn’t to get to an exciting ending–it’s just to enjoy or appreciate the day-by-day actions and decisions of the various characters, all of whom are intended to be easy for the audience to relate to.
In anime, however, there often is some interesting character development in slice of life–it’s just done in a slower, more gradual way. (And arguably more realistic way, at least in some stories.)
Natsume Yuujinchou San is the third season for the series, and I feel it’s the best one yet. It’s one of those wonderful, unique anime that just keeps getting better as it goes along. The protagonist Natsume is one of the best-handled characters in an anime (in my opinion), and each episode presents a tale that is either charming or bittersweet–and Natsume Yuujinchou proves time and again that it can handle both ends of the emotional spectrum splendidly. And all along in the background, Natsume develops as a character, slowly building relationships with his classmates, his foster parents, and–of course–the (generally) invisible yokai spirits and creatures that only he can see.
So this is definitely a fantasy story, but the atmosphere is very reminiscent of other slice-of-life anime out there. It’s sweet and touching, quiet and peaceful, lovely and moving. And you can watch it right here.
Next up is Ikoku Meiro no Croisee (“Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth”), a slice of life that proves unique in its setting and subject matter. This story stars a young girl (apparently thirteen, from what I’ve read) from Japan who goes to Paris, France to work for a blacksmith shop (keeping things clean, welcoming customers, etc). And it’s the nineteenth century. I love the nineteenth century! I think it’s a fascinating time aesthetically, and I love all the traditional clothing and architecture and whatnot. Plus the show largely deals with cross-cultural interaction, which I also find very interesting.
If any of this sounds intriguing, you should really give the show a try! The characters are all pretty well-developed over the course of the anime, and their personalities are well-explained via flashbacks (mostly toward the end of the series). But it leaves me wanting more! So I hope more of the series will be adapted one day–it’s a very beautiful series to watch.
Last on my list is Usagi Drop, which was one of the most anticipated shows of the season. And overall I thought it was really good. The animation style was very unique, with soft pastels that gave it a bit of a watercolor feel at times, and simplistic character expressions that were rather cute. The focus of this anime was on parenting, and I really liked that the theme was taken seriously, but still maintained a positive atmosphere. In the media, the concept of raising a child is often treated in a way that really emphasizes the stresses involved–and while Usagi Drop does portray some of these difficulties, it always makes clear that Daikichi (the father figure) feels it is all worth it for the sake of Rin’s (the child’s) happiness.
There is some good character development in this show as well, though unfortunately some plot threads are left hanging at the end. But the main purpose of the series is pulled off nicely, and I was definitely glad I watched it. You can try it for yourself too!
So while I enjoyed all three of these series, I still feel I can at least rank them: 3) Usagi Drop, 2) Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, and 1) Natsume Yuujinchou San. Nastume is definitely one of my favorite series in general, and I highly recommend everyone start with season one and work your way up to the latest episode. There will be a fourth season this winter too, so look forward to that! As for Croisee, there were some times I felt the stories were padded out a bit, and some instances where the characters upset me–but for the vast majority of the show it made me smile, and I was surprised by some of the depth to the characters during the last five or so episodes. And in Usagi Drop’s case, I mainly just felt I was left hanging at the end, without any resolution for a few of the show’s subplots. (Particularly, I wanted to see Daikichi’s relationship with Kouki’s mom actually go somewhere! Oh well.) The focus on raising Rin was handled well though, so I wasn’t too upset.
All in all it was a great season for slice of life! The fall 2011 anime lineup includes a few new slice-of-life shows, such as Chihayafuru (I believe), Kimi to Boku (“You and Me”), and Tamayura Hitotose. And I’m sure there will be plenty of others in seasons to come–that’s one of the great things about anime: there’s always plenty more shows to look forward to.