In defence of slice of life and why they’re not the same as comedies

Ah slice of life. The genre in anime which is as over-saturated as it is criticised. Most of these criticisms boil down to “well, nothing happens it doesn’t have a story” or something else which irritates me to no end: “the comedy in these shows aren’t funny.” NO. Stop. You’re putting forth a very specific criticism for a slice of life show that happens to also be a comedy. You are not criticising the slice of life genre as a whole.

My own personal definition of a slice of life show is one that has to be propelled forwards by its cast. The story has to be very character driven and spend most of its time getting us so attached to the characters, their relationships with each other and the fun/struggles/drama that comes in their daily lives that we want to watch the next episode of the show and also the next episode of their lives. Good slice of life shows have made me want to continue experiencing the journey of these characters in the next part of their lives and so it’s not strange that some of my favourite overall casts in shows have been those belonging to slice of life ones. The other part of this would be that the show also shouldn’t have that much of an overarching plot. Now I know that this seems like I am trying to agree with the stereotype that ‘slice of life has no plot’ but hear me out when I mean overarching. Having a story is fine, and necessary, but the story arcs should be just that – story arcs. They should be about our characters and each episode should try and further their small arcs until we reach their conclusion at the end of the show. These arcs could be concluded all by the same event or decision which the show has been leading up to and this can give the illusion that there is an overarching plot and give the illusion that the show is not in fact slice of life but these loose ‘plot devices’ (I use this term for a lack of better words to convey what I want to say) are just tools to wrap up the character stories in a fitting conclusion that feels satisfying to the viewer.

I’m aware these two requirements are very loose and could include shows that you and the majority of people do not agree are slice of life shows and exclude shows which are marketed as slice of life. But I’ll be happy to show you exactly what I mean by using a few examples:

  • Clannad and Clannad: After Story – Not comedy shows and are more focused on the drama and romance between the characters and use it’s supernatural story elements to facilitate the character’s arcs.
  • Kokoro Connect – I like to consider this show a lesser Clannad as I would explain it in exactly the same way as I explained Clannad. About the characters. Uses its supernatural story elements (the characters switching bodies) to further the characters in their understanding of each other. Also not a comedy although has comedic moments.
  • Cowboy Bebop – Yeah. Don’t get angry. I know Cowboy Bebop has what many would consider a ‘main story’ across it’s largely episodic run but this is mainly pushed to the sidelines for most of the show. I believe there is only around six or seven episodes that actually focus on this ‘main story’. The rest of the episodes exist to show us literal slices of the characters’ lives and the main takeaway at the end of an episode is that the episode was just a small event in the life of the characters. That they will live their lives out as normal. That they have seen this shit all before. Not a comedy.
  • Mushishi and Natsume – I pair these together as they largely have the same style of telling their stories. Again very episodic which contributes to the feeling that we are only seeing portions of the lives of our main characters. Lacks an overall story other than the general premise of the series and is more focused on the characters’ individual stories. Natsume more than Mushishi does start to focus on the relationships between the title character and the supporting cast as this is part of his character arc. Also not comedies.
  • Nana – I mean c’mon. Nana practically wrote the book on how to create interesting characters and using them to create a character driven story. Not really a comedy although it’s labelled as one.

I think I’ve made my point here. Another interesting thing to point out is that all of the shows I used as examples here are often touted as some of if not the best slice of life anime in existence (with the exception of Cowboy Bebop and Kokoro Connect which doesn’t have nearly as much praise as the others on this list). And they’re also not comedy shows. So we have five of the best slice of life series of all time and they just happen to not focus on comedy and also happen to have a lot of story to them. That seems strange for a genre where “nothing happens other than comedy”. Granted, the genre does have an immense over-saturation of school comedies without a plot but these are unfortunate by-products and should not be used to define a whole genre of worthwhile shows. Hell I’ve seen at least one of Clannad, Nana or Mushishi on practically everyone’s favourite anime of all time lists. The genre must be good for something.