Slice of Life Anime: Insane Sanity
When many people think of Anime, they think of those colorful Japanese cartoons with little creatures that can use superpowers. They think of Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and even Naruto and Bleach. With Anime dominated by the Japanese genre of Shonen, which is aimed primarily at boys aged twelve to fifteen years old, many forget that Anime has many other types as well. It is not all fighting to save the world, it does not all involve big, buff men on a quest for Dragonballs in an effort to revive the dead and defeat the evil overlord that can destroy planets, and it is not all about kids developing superpowers, using them for the powers of good. Sometimes, Anime takes place in our own world with people as normal as any of us… for the most part.
The Anime spoken of are called Slice of Life Anime. They follow the lives are characters in situations otherwise seen as completely normal. They go to school, they develop crushes, they have family issues, estrangement from their parents as they grow up and go through puberty, and struggles on finding their own direction in life. Generally, a Slice of Life is considered a portrayal of life, bonus points if it’s a life with problems. A good gateway into Slice of Life is Whispers of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki. It follows a normal girl who lacks any sort of direction, living in a small, cramped apartment with her parents and sister, deals with her romantic problems, refusal to take her studies seriously, and in the end discovers her direction and pursues it. Like some Slice of Life, it is tinged with a little bit of imagination, of the incredible that give it what makes it unique. Many Slice of Life Anime have that element of fantasy, and how these otherwise rational characters deal with it is what makes it Slice of Life.
Three Anime come to mind when thinking of rational characters in irrational situations, trying desperately to make sense of it all. Even though these Anime contain some fantastical elements, what makes them Slice of Life is the element of normalcy, the prevailing element of incredulity as such insane things happen. This is why these kinds of Slice of Life Anime tend to follow the lives of the normal characters and not the abnormal. The Anime spoken of are none other than the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Ouran High School Host Club, and Chuunibyou, Love and Other Delusions. All are Slice of Life but in a way different than most others. They are Slice of Life because their main character tries battling the insanity and find a saner life.
The audience learns to sympathize with the main characters in these Anime because they act as any normal person would. They try ignoring, rectifying, and they even try embracing the situation. Where others around them may (secretly) have superpowers, the main characters do not; while those around them may be slightly crazy or irrational, the main character is not; and, where those around them live in an overly active imagination completely cut off from reality, they do not. They try dealing with it the way any normal person can, and at the same time try to establish for themselves a normal life outside of the abnormal. It is an attempt to reject abnormality and pursue what everyone pursues. What makes them slice of life is not only the presence of reality, it is the main character refusing to conform to the strange ad unrealistic.
Warning: The following content may contain spoilers for the first few episodes of any given show. Reader discretion is advised. While none of what follows will spoil the ending, it will refer to the inherent plot points of the first few episodes that build any given show up. Sensitive readers who prefer to go I blind have been warned.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Imagine for a second a scene with you sitting in school and a girl behind you stands up and asks for any Esper, time-traveler or alien to come forward. No one does of course because such beings do not exist, at least, they don’t until you meet them. The beginning of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is exactly like this. The weirdest girl in the class stands up and asks for any supernatural beings to come forth. Unbeknownst to her, she is a sleeping god and whatever she wants to happen, even subconsciously, will happen. At first, it may seem like the anime is veering off from normal Slice of Life elements but the main element remains.
The main character Kyon is used to normalcy running the day. He just wants a quiet life where he studies, hangs out with his friends, lays back and watches television and basically do stuff any teenager his age would want to do. However, the outspoken and enthusiastic Haruhi Suzumiya wished for something more than normalcy and that wish alone made it so. She founded a club dedicated to finding time travelers, Espers and aliens and she roped Kyon right into it. Kyon wishes to leave but her forceful attitude and the presence of three others make it impossible for him to do so. Kyon meets a time traveler named Asahina, an Esper named Kyozumi, and an alien named Yuki.
Yuki explains to him a big mind-blowing pack of information that would provoke any other guy to call her crazy. That is exactly what Kyon does. He tries dismissing the notion that Yuki is an alien just as he dismisses that Asahina is from the future and Kyozumi is an Esper. At least until all of this is proven to him and he is told that this must remain secret. Haruhi’s mind is unstable and if she discovers any of this, the world would start changing in a way nobody can handle. Haruhi, the sleeping god, must remain asleep. This cast of characters make it their mission to handle and explain any world-changing event and keep the existence of their Order blissfully secret.
Kyon represents the viewer trying to make sense of everything and at the same time, embracing the abnormal because failure to do so may literally mean the end of the world. The entire Anime sees Kyon trying to retain what little normalcy there is left in his life. His two friends who are unaware of the drastic turn his life has taken symbolize the bit of normalcy left. His little sister at home also shows the little normalcy he has left and he keeps it close. It is made difficult when Haruhi, Kyozumi, Asahina or Yuki come to call but he still tries keeping things normal. He frequently shows impatience and exasperation at the whole situation.
Chuunibyou, Love and Other Delusions
We all had that phase in our childhood where we put a ridiculous spin on things to make it seem more fantastical than it really was. Like a detour during the emotional and physical maturation that is puberty. Imagine entering High school, trying to put that all behind you, and then you meet a girl your age who has not. That can be testy. It threatens any attempt you or anyone else in that situation might make to put the past behind them and grow up. The beginning of Chuunibyou is exactly like this. The main character, Yuuta, once called himself Dark Flame Master and acted like he possessed dark powers. Upon entering High school, he means to put it behind him but in comes Rikka, who once admired that about him, and still pretends she has a powerful eye and so wears an eye patch to school.
Once again, the main character is completely normal. Yuuta just wants a high school life. He has a crush, he has tests, and he has a home life. He wants to study, fall in love, and socialize with friends his age. Yet, he ends up getting far more than he bargained for. He ends up socializing with people older than him, younger than him, and his own age. Like in Haruhi, the weird girl who swoops in and ruins things, founds a club to keep all that weirdness in a single spot and Yuuta is in the middle of it. He doesn’t have a choice either. It’s the only way he can make sure he is not embarrassed too much, to make sure Rikka doesn’t tell too many people. The one sane person is surrounded by the eye patch wearing Rikka, her apprentice Dekemori, and the napping Kumin. The only sane person is Nibutani and even she engages in childish activity when she flares up against Dekemori because her own childhood has come back to haunt her.
This leaves Yuuta quite alone. Rikka’s sister Touka can sympathize and wants Rikka to exit that phase too, but she is powerless to stop it since Rikka views her as the evil High Priestess. The only one who can bring her out of that phase is Yuuta, who Rikka sees as having entered a contract with (meaning they are in a relationship.) Yuuta can’t do it though. Something is holding him back. Peer pressure, perhaps? Has the club gotten to him like it got to Kyon? It is possible. Yuuta is in a very close, special relationship with Rikka and he is the only one who can handle her and he does. She is basically his own childhood returning to him and by engaging with her, Yuuta embraces this childhood. Yuuta takes part in imaginative sequences too as Dark Flame master. For those who watched Whispers of the Heart, which is also a Slice of Life, this is familiar to the scene with the Baron cat.
Yuuta represents the normal high school student, trying to make sense of the insane, childish world around him. But it’s all around him. Yuuta, in a way, proves to be more balanced than Kyon before him. Kyon could not really make peace with this until the end. He tried unsuccessfully to manage Haruhi until eventually, he embraced the insanity. By falling in love with Rikka, Yuuta succeeded much sooner in managing to keep a balance than Kyon did. Unlike in Haruhi, the viewer may not necessarily like or agree with the action of allowing Rikka’s ‘eighth grade syndrome’ to fester. This is where Nibutani comes in. She is more normal than any of them, and so the viewer is allowed to relate to her more than anyone. Nibutani is the completely real against Rikka’s unreal and Yuuta, the character the audience relates to, serves as the balance between both.
Ouran High School Host Club
Many disagree that Oroun High School Host Club is a Slice of Life. Indeed, it fits much more nicely into the romantic genre (in some ways at least.) The two are not mutually exclusive. Ouran High School Host Club is a slice from the typical life of a High school student. In this case, the student’s name is Haruhi. Because Haruhi looks like a boy, she is mistaken for one and therefore flirted with by many girls her age, also making it a reverse harem. This Anime follows random adventures of the Host Club, a gang of boys who have a lot of time on their hands to bring happiness to ladies by flirting excessively with them. Haruhi is caught in the middle, required to be there to pay off a vase she broke.
Once again, any girl can relate to Haruhi. What would any High school student do if they are caught in the middle of a club of people flirting and taking advantage of the opposite gender? They would leave. The only problem is Haruhi cannot just leave. She has to pay off the debt she owes for breaking an expensive vase of theirs. To make things worse, she truly is the odd ball out when she is separated as a commoner, as most of the students are very rich. She is constantly flirted with by the boys, making her feel even more uncomfortable. Any audience member can relate to her as the main character. She is the normal one in a gang of excessive, overdramatic boys. In a gang of boys where weirdness rules the day and one is actually practically a super weapon based on how strong he is, the audience needs Haruhi to keep a lid on things.
Haruhi not only rejects the Host Club, she has a shred of normalcy. Where she is often shown to be strong-willed, she cowers by the sound and rumble of thunder. While many might deny that Ouran High School Host Club is a Slice of Life due to the more romantic and sexual nature of some of the sequences, the presence of the main character makes it a Slice of Life. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a Slice of Life because of Kyon, Chuunibyou is a Slie of Life because of Yuuta and especially Nibutani (not to mention its exaggerated basis in childhood fantasy) and this Anime is a Slice of Life because of Haruhi, not to mention Kyoya in some ways. The main character alone, the one normal person in a sea of weird, makes these two a Slice of Life.
This is what makes Ouran High School Host Club a Slice of Life. Haruhi does befriend them but she constantly wishes she could put a lid on things. Unlike Kyon and Yuuta, however, she succeeds. The reason for her success is in the Host Club itself. There is one other who shares her sentiments and wish for things to be normal and that is the character of Kyoya. Many times, both end up partaking in their ridiculous games, but Haruhi proves to be more strong-willed than Kyon and Yuuta before her. They embraced the weird and abnormal, Haruhi rejects it, believing it to be an offense to her character. She does what she likes, she even goes against the Host Club at times. Due not only to the presence of normalcy, but the triumph of normalcy, one could actually argue that Ouran High School Host Club is more within the Slice of Life genre than any of the other two.
In the end, all three are indeed Slice of Life and all three are very popular in their own right. Though Chuunibyou is quite underrated for its type, all are known enough to be considered popular and all are considered a must-watch for any Slice of Life watcher. All three main characters dealt with the abnormal situation given to them in their own way but all three shared the same common goal of normalcy. Kyon was lax and impatient all at once, and did not grow to embrace what he was given until the very end. Yuuta accepts the new reality that is the overactive imagination of Rikka, even indulge in t, but he maintains the boundary between real and unreal ad so keeps himself within the physical world. Haruhi rejected the actions of the Host Club even if she ultimately befriended them all in her own way. She continued fighting back and showed her own sense of strong will, even scolding them for getting involved in her private life if they ever did.
By creating a dynamic balance between the normal and the abnormal, between the real and the unreal, and between the magic and the mundane, these three shows have gone where most Slice of Life cannot go. See, magic is not usually apparent in Slice of Life, it rarely does not feature overdramatic romantic sequences, let alone imaginative elements. These three shows do so, and with the presence of the main character, they all succeed in creating a balance between Slice of Lie, romance and fantasy. By definition, a Slice of Life is exactly what it sounds like. A slice out of a typical life of a person based off the setting that person is situated in. A slice of the life of a working adult would simply feature that adult going to work and managing his family. A slice from a high school student’s life would simply be good grades and romantic ventures. These three Anime go much further and still manage to retain their overarching and common genre. This is what makes all three truly good works of art.
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