There Is No Such a Thing as a Slice-of-Life Genre

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.]


14 Responses to “There Is No Such a Thing as a Slice-of-Life Genre”

  • -chii-

    I personally would call the simpsons a SOL. (not so much with firefly) I can’t explain where the SOL term came from or anything in the anime world but it’s pretty much the equivalent to the Sitcom genre in the west. normal people doing normal things that can be funny or serious at times.

    i break down the SOL “genre” a little more when it comes to anime because like you i don’t consider most “school life” shows SOL. instead i like to call them “slice of school life” shows. this makes more sense to me since i feel i’m being more specific to the SOL “genre” where i like to think that most people would consider shows like aria etc to be the “purest” form of SOL or shows that don’t have a million kids sitting around in a classroom for all 50 episodes at the very least.

    i dunno where i was really going with all this but well here you go :P

    • omo

      it’s fine. i appreciate your comments.

      i just don’t like to pare it down to “school life” or whatever. a sitcom is a sitcom, etc. I’m sure lots of people would say simpsons is a slice of life but that’s just unnecessary, you know?

  • Caitlyn

    Thank you so much for writing this. So many times I’ve tried to seriously discuss a series with someone only to have them say, “Well, it’s a slice-of-life…” and have the discussion die instantly because that’s such a useless statement. In my experience, unless a show features a lot of violent combat with a clearly-defined antagonist, it’ll invariably be called “SOL” by someone.

    Everyone pls

  • Ian K

    We seem to have two different ways of classifying ‘genre’: one is by plot elements (zombie, heist, space opera, etc), the other is by how they (try to) make us feel (horror, thriller, comedy). SOL is the former, ‘Healing’ is the latter. So while it may not be incorrect to call both Nichibros and K-On SOL because of their plots, we shouldn’t base our assessment just on that factor; similarly, you can’t just lump Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later together, even though they both have zombies. Then again, as you said SOL is usually used to refer to things we don’t like, so it may be time to coin a new phrase to replace it as a plot descriptor.

    • omo

      I think it would not be incorrect to lump Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later together. They are both zombie films and categorically the same, even if they are very different zombie films. I understand what you are getting at but I believe SOL fails as a way to describe both plot elements or how we feel. It’s kind of both, and yet kind of neither.

      Pretty much, I think SOL as an “element” is a bogus thing. First I think there is no way to define SOL strictly as an element. For example, I don’t know if I agree K-ON is even a SOL anime. It has a pretty interesting set up and over the course of the 2 TV series it focuses on two main concepts: the formation of the club and its identity and then dealing with parting with Azusa. It’s no different than 28 Days Later, which is a slice of life story after an apocalyptic event.

      Second, the fact that I can make this comparison is what is ridiculous about SOL. Yeah, maybe The Dark Knight Rises is a very different SOL story than K-ON and both could be very different SOL type stories than Nichibros. But that is just a nearly useless thing to say.

  • DiGiKerot

    I one was in the mood to be mean, one could argue that Slice of Life is just a polite way to describe a sitcom with isn’t actually funny enough to be called a comedy.

  • jpmeyer

    1) It has girls in it and it has romance in it, so how could Love Hina be anything but a shoujo manga? Game set match.

    2) LOLOLOLOL Cosprayers and Baby Princess http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Slice_of_life_anime_and_manga

    3) I remember when the Wikipedia page for this consisted of like 40 anime/manga and then randomly had James Joyce thrown in.

    • omo

      2) LOLOL Cosprayers. LOLOL Natsuiro Kiseki. LOLOL SAINT YOUNG MEN. LOLOLOLOLOLOLL Cosprayers!!!

      3) JAMES JOYCE ULTIMATE S’LIFE

  • Totali

    Actually, literature and film critics use the term too. It’s come up in discussion while I was in school and elsewhere. It’s probably used a lot in anime discussion circles because of Japanese storytelling in general, which often depicts stories of every day life that many people wouldn’t quite call dramas. Hirokazu Koreeda’s Aruitemo aruitemo (Still Walking) immediately comes to mind as an example. While there are Western films like this, they are far and between when compared to the amount that comes from Japan.

    • omo

      That’s good to know. What sort of context does this term arise in film crit in the academic setting? Because that seems to be a lot more serious. I’m all okay if people talk about slice of life in context only of the depiction of everyday life. But I’m not sure what you mean by “dramas.” At least, I don’t think I’ve came across any work that fits this description other than, say, YKK.

      But of course I think the problem still stands in that why don’t we do the same for non-Japanese works.

  • omo

    Just for reference, here is a common example of the SOL term is being used in the wild.
    http://www.fandompost.com/oldforums/showthread.php?12761-Slice-of-life-anime

  • TheBigN

    o>

    This post will also make me start watching Hyouka now, for better or worse. Thank you.

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