Have some kuuki with your kuuki-kei anime:
Personally I always thought the term slice-of-life as used by anime people is akin to lightly hitting a child or urinating in the bushes, but somehow everyone does it. Who am I to speak out against this relatively harmless offense? After all, it helps the kids to learn how to dodge, and maybe urine directly applied to the soil is a more environmentally sound (but health-poor) way to propagate the nitrogen cycle or something equally nonsensical.
But, really, these Finnish have us American dudes beat. They talked about this Slice-of-Life thing at their blogger meeting. That’s pretty spiffy. Beats seeing a bunch of people who have marketing or commercial agendas gather together. Maybe that’s why Europe is pretty cool and we uncivilized folks of the East have some ways to go.
The thing is, to me the term is always just a metaphor. You use it as a modifier, or to express a feeling or something simpler words won’t do. It is not a label, it is not a genre. When it comes to most anime that gets branded by that term we inflect a notion of nostalgia, that mono no aware-ness along with the narrative. That’s why it’s so commonly associated with iyashikei. It doesn’t have anything to do with the narrative structure necessarily, besides that it inflicts the feeling of being healed, with a slow pace that necessitates such healing.
But it is just a metaphor. You could use it as a genre tag, but it will have to be well-defined beyond its function as a metaphor. Naturally nobody’s done that (not even the virus-infested puss pool that is TVTropes). And yet of course sites like ANN and MAL, which take tags seriously, use the term “slice of life” and propagate this needless corpse of figurative speech like some kind of undead. It’s like a zombie–nobody knows how it works, yet it does. Again, I am not saying it doesn’t work: it is a black box that nobody cares to look within, and when you do you realize how stupid it is.
The second-biggest issue I have with “slice-of-life” in that sense is that it masks what lies beneath the mechanism that makes you go and call something a slice-of-life anime. Instead, people focus on the legalistic definition. That is its sin. By doing so it makes people run in circles thinking what show is or is not a slice-of-life, but not thinking about the simple elements that evoke the feeling. Being a metaphor means it isn’t a legal, rational cause-effect concept; it’s closer to art and feeling, if you know what I mean. I mean, more people should be using and studying terms like “wabi sabi” or “mono no aware” because they are genuine JP lit/art crit terms that have a lot written for them, if they want to to do real crit. Instead we have kids jerking off to “slice of life.” It’s like reinventing the wheel wrong (and that is the biggest problem I have with the term).
At the very least, I’d rather brand stuff by terms like “iyashikei” or “kuukikei” because at least those terms are prescriptive and not some kind of vague metaphor, if we must use some otaku terms.
Unlike a zombie, however, I can’t point a gun at a figure of speech and shoot it (again and again) dead (again and again). All I can do is rage quietly at my inability to translate all this fandom academia from Japan, who’s been at this for longer than we have and have a more mature framework.