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In my last post, which you can find here, I talked about how the Slice of Life genre can unfairly be labeled boring or uninteresting and pointed to shows like Spice and Wolf and A Place Further than the Universe to prove my point, which brought up a different point in the comments that I was planning on talking about in this post anyway: What defines a Slice of life?
Now, I’ve come up with a few working definitions, but before I put those out there I think it’s important to know what other definitions people have used before. The most common definition seems to come from Wikipedia, in which it is described as “seemingly arbitrary sequence of events in a character’s life is presented, often lacking plot development, conflict and exposition, and often having an open ending.”
In Robert E. Brenner’s book “Understanding Manga and Anime,” He defines Slice of Life as having more melodramatic tendencies, while also acknowledging the tendency to focus on School, romance, Sci-fi and fantasy.
Other definitions, including ones from Merriam Webster and Cambridge, emphasize the fact that a slice of life focuses on the “real life” of the character or characters involved.
All of these definitions probably would have been accurate by themselves even just a half a decade ago, but the reality is that the Slice of Life genre, whether we like it or not, has expanded. As Brenner’s definition acknowledges, Slice of Life in anime isn’t just high school comedy and romance. What seems to be the problem in modern anime is the Slice of Life genre’s increase in its use of fantasy and sci-fi elements.
In that case, I would propose a definition that looks something like this:
A story in which one or more characters interact in a way that involves little to no plot progression, and which generally focuses on the character’s day to day lives.
Now, I like this definition not just because I wrote it, but because it focuses on the two things that are at the heart of every slice of life show:
- The characters
- The character’s interactions
The definitions previously were somewhat limiting in that they had to involve the “real lives” of the characters involved, meaning that show’s with more unrealistic elements like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid could technically be considered not Slice of Life.
Now, looking at the definition I wrote above, how would this apply to the example’s I used in my last post?
Well, this is where some of it gets a little sticky. With “A Place Further Than the Universe,” even though it might be defined by others as Slice of Life, under this definition it might not be, because even though the main girls are certainly the focus, it would be hard to argue that there is no plot progression.
The Ancient Magus Bride seems to fall somewhat more in the middle, as the show most certainly focuses mainly on Ainsworth and Chise, but there is a fair argument to be had about just how much the plot progressed by the end of the show.
Spice and Wolf, at least under this definition, is a pretty open and shut case. Very little in the way of actual plot progression happens during the show’s run, and the interactions between Lawrence and Holo are pretty much the main driving point of the show.
Well, that’s my answer to the question. By no means am I saying this is a perfect definition, and I would for sure love to hear some criticism and feedback, but its what I have come up with for now. I might end up following this up with a third post talking about sub-genres, but I’ll leave it at this for now.
What do you guys think the definition of Slice of Life is? Let me know in the comments below. Also, if you want to support the Aniwriter through donations or are just feeling generous, consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Otherwise, thanks for reading and bye for now, Friendos!
10 thoughts on “In Defense of Slice of Life pt. 2: How to Define the Genre”
One of the most important Slice of Life manga, which ran for 10 years and was famously popular, is called Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip. This innocuous title was actually about a post apocalyptic world where the seas are rising, for some reason, and the human species has largely died off, with the survivors being pacifists who stopped breeding. Humans are dying out. And there’s nanotechnology that’s mimicking our stuff growing around the countryside. There’s also seriously good androids so amazing they hardly notice they’re androids. It follows the story of one of the prototypes, named Alpha, who runs a quiet country cafe with rarely any customers. There’s even a 4 ep OVA anime about it by that name.
The manga has fantastic overgrown roads and falling down buildings and its all very mysterious and its never explained properly. Instead you see her life in this green hell, with life growing over thousands of years of civilization, dissolving it away. Its often listed as one of the top 10 for slice of life, even though its a kind of scifi. You might want to check it out.
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Oh, and its other name is YKK or Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.
I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for pointing it out.
https://www.mangareader.net/yokohama-kaidashi-kikou Found it.
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I like your definition. I agree slice of life can be hard to define. I tend to think of it as being stories that are more realistic in nature, the type where it feels like it could happen to you, your best friend, your neighbor, etc. I usually don’t label fantasies as slice of life, but yet there are some that have that everyday feel to it.
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Nobody with any sense stops at Wikipedia and calls it good… But it is a very bad habit that many have.
It’s not so much that the definition has changed… it’s that Brenner was writing in a very different time, when access to Japanese media was much more limited. (And there is an equivalent Western definition that dates back over a century.) What has changed with increased access is that we have the materials available to reach a deeper understanding and appreciation of the genre as seen and applied to anime.
That being said, your definition is essentially the same as mine. (Though I’ve never formally codified mine, perhaps I should.) The main difference is that I use the existing term “daily life” in place of your “day-to-day lives”. (“Everyday life” is an equivalent, though lesser used, term.) And that’s the key to my understanding and definition… To a large extent slice-of-life revolves around the normal (and quite often cyclical) routines of a character’s life. (The cycles need not be daily. The celebration of New Year’s Day is an important part of (Japanese) life for example as are the progression of the seasons and the school year.) Thus even a show like Wagnaria!! can be included as having slice-of-life elements as the daily routine at the restaurant underlies the plot and the wacky events that occur there.
And that’s where I relegate Magus Bride and Spice and Wolf to the borderlands of “having elements of” slice-of-life because there is no normalcy or normal cyclical routine(s) underlying the plot. Though how the plot plays out depends a great deal on the interactions between the characters… The plot is driven almost entirely by external shocks and events. The “road” and “buddy” genres can look suspiciously like “slice of life” when they’re character based, but they lack the critical normal/routine/cyclical elements.
No offense intended, but that’s where I think your argument (WRT specific shows) runs off the rails… Here in the West we have an awful tendency towards ticky-boxes, alphabetization, and tidy organization structures that is often inhibiting. Few shows are purely of one genre. Genres can be used as a binary switch, but that’s not (IMO) nearly as useful as examining them as a spectrum or using them as one circle on a Venn Diagram.
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I’ll start of by saying no offense takin’ whatsoever. It doesn’t do anybody any good to get mad about when someone offers constructive criticisms about your ideas. I appreciate you taking the time to write things out.
In my defense, and sort of in your defense as well, 1. I didn’t necesarrily stop at Wikipedia, it just happen to have a few a good sources on the subject in the citations, but 2. I will admit that I didn’t exactly spend a large amount of time writing/researching this. I got very busy pretty much right after the first part of the post came out, and honestly the only reason I released it when I did is because I felt like I had to because I said previously that It would be out on friday.
On your point about Brenner’s book, I both agree and disagree with you. Yes the Slice of Life landscape speciffically looks a lot different then when the book released in 2007, but its not as though there was nothing in the anime zeitgeist that didn’t expand what Slice of Life was. Planetes is a sci-fi Slice of Life that focused on a group of trash collectors in outerspace, and it came out in October of 2003.
I think where we have our disagreement, and where I could have done a lot better of a job in the article explaining, is what the slice of life genre has now come to encompass. As you said, Slice of Life often refers to a more cyclical view of daily life, with things remaining relatively same. The introduction of more fantasy and sci-fi elements into the genre has messed with that a lot, which is why I feel that the genre deserves a more expansive definition.
I also don’t disagree with your idea of categorization. It certainly is my first instinct whenever I come across something I am unfamiliar with to try and categorize it.