One of the neat things about being a fan for a while (I’d say at least 6 years) is the opportunity to see your niche fandom evolve. When I was watching anime in the 90s, there was no such a thing as “slice-of-life” genre. In fact the term didn’t really come into its own until maybe the 2004-2006 period, when iyashikei shows were hitting the late-night airwaves in full force.
The relationship between kuuki-kei or iyashikei shows and slice-of-life seems almost too obvious. The placid everyday-ness of a lot of those shows inspires the use of terms that describes the everyday. I think I might have liked it more if “slice-of-life” was called “slice-of-everyday.” In fact, it might as well be called “slice-of-everyday-life.”
The evolution of fan lingo is not a big deal. I can deal with onions and cours as well as anyone. The problem I have with “slice-of-life” (henceforth SOL) is that it is ill-defined in the usual case. Or rather, it is only descriptive one-way. For example, I can say show X is a SOL show and we can think about how X maps to what we define as SOL as a genre or an attribute to a show. But I have a very hard time taking people’s recommendations for SOL shows. Besides the archetypal kuuki-kei stuff (Yokohama Shopping Log, Aria S1 and S2) you get shows like Hyouka or Manabi Straight in the mix. I’m like, please pass the crackpipe?
In other words, it makes sense as a tag on ANN or MAL, but it makes no sense as a topic for discussion. It’s just too vacuous. Moreover it is kind of a ghetto term. Nobody calls The Simpsons or Firefly a SOL show. Or for that matter just about any non-anime show out there. Why do anime fans use this term? It also propagates like an undead zombie, as I previously ranted on. Every time I run into someone using the term in a serious way I want to kill a kitten? Can we seriously switch to “healing” or “ambiance” as tags? Please?
I guess a more seasoned response to the SOL mapping problem is that anime fans historically have been horrible at mapping things. If I had a dollar every time someone calls Love Hina a shoujo story I would’ve been able to probably skip a mortgage payment, just for example. But that’s not a problem to me because those well-established terms have very clear definitions as applied to genre. My fundamental problem with SOL is that even if you know every single piece of information about a show, you still probably cannot firmly decide if a show is SOL. The best you could do is to convey a probability (probably a bell curve of sort, this would make an interesting experiment) that by saying this show is SOL when asked to name a SOL show, what % of people will agree with you. Because the bottom line is that SOL is a matter of more about feelings than any textbook definition. It’s like moe. Which explains why it is a good way to express the attributes of a show, but not a good way to prescribe a list of shows that shares a certain attribute. Perhaps that is enough for any language, but merely agreement is just superficial understanding, that “agree to disagree” sort of BS.
In a way, by coining this term, we have allowed ourselves to open up this construct for further discussion. Just what defines SOL for each person probably can fill the skies of internet boards and forums like how someone professes wifehood for his or her favorite character. It may be cause for celebration and it might be okay to cherish the process that goes on to explore the nature of the SOL, but how can we, on further examination, avoid this linguistic confusion between SOL and, say, kuuki-kei? Or perhaps in a more mercenary sense, will the term SOL ever graduate from common use, beyond as a parameter in the greater database that marks the likes of TVTropes or ANN? It seems to be stuck as a short hand, rather than a discussion topic. Probably precisely because the idea behind “slice-of-life” is bogus when rigorously applied to a genre (and many other things). And I will probably keep ranting about this until I stop running into people using this term in a functional, non-ironic way regarding attributes of anime series.
Or maybe I should approach it the other way around: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS SLICE OF LIFE YO.
[Think of this post as an updated version of the same rant I posted in August, 2010, which is now partly recovered.]