“Slice-of-life” or “Ambience”?

Cake!

Cake is always welcome

Nova started and omo followed up.

Which inspired me to think of this way; why is the genre called “slice-of-life”?

Sure, it usually attempts to present characters in a daily life based setting, but usually they can lean to more fantastical (Kino no Tabi, Mushishi) or sci-fi-ish (ARIA, YKK) bents.

In fact, the Japanese term for these types of shows are “kuuki-kei“, that roughly translates to “atmosphere/ambience-type”, and that term is really quite spot-on as a term describing those types of shows.

So why don’t we all just call it “ambience” anime? It’s much more accurate and a better term to describe them than “slice-of-life”; which in most cases, usually isn’t quite correct for most of them. Truly, their selling points are the settings and the pull they have towards the viewers, rather than the characters or the plotlines.

22 Comments

  1. in other words... Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    … I see what you guys did there. A pretty interesting proposition… amazing what drunk people can think of…

  2. Gin Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

    Just give me the damn cake and let’s move on to more important matters in life, like figuring out if Mugi has an ulterior motive for her generosity.

  3. DocAstaroth Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

    @ in other words…

    Well, look at Zun, the creator of Touhou…

    Interesting, I´m excited to see the impact of this discussion.

  4. Dop Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

    Gin Said: if Mugi wants Ana she’ll need more than just delicious cake.
    She’ll have to fight Nobue for her… preferably in the mud.
    Someone please animate that.

  5. So shimasu! Said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 11:17 pm

    Well, I think I prefer using “slice of life” !
    It means to describe something happen to a group of people in our life and usually normal people don’t have this thing to happen to them. For example, actors and very sick people like skip beat anime or one liter of tears J drama!

  6. Dakkar Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 1:47 am

    So, the selling point of Aria was the setting, not the characters? That’s quite a bold statement considering that the viewers were learning about the world along with the main character, through her eyes and her experiences with it. There was a whole theme of special places and people, which define one’s own Aqua, that perceived image shown in the anime. It’s a highly subjective thing – change the cast and you might get an entirely different picture even though the setting remains the same.

    I always thought that the slice-of-life genre is not about the action taking place in the real modern world, but rather about having the events involving the cast and their behavior been considered normal, even casual, by other inhabitants of the world they live in.
    The reason why Aria doesn’t fully qualify is not because of the futuristic setting, but because of all the mystery elements, the abnormal events Akari gets involved in.
    In Mushishi all the events stray far away from normal, so I have no idea as to how this one could be considered slice-of-life.
    In Kino no Tabi the world was made up of the collection of the entirely different worlds, with each and every one of them having its own definition of normal. So, any outsider is abnormal, and you can see that travelers always get a special treatment. Social commentary, yes, slice-of-life, no.

    In the end, it’s not that the term is bad, it’s just that it’s often used without thinking.

  7. Myssa Rei Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 3:04 am

    Interesting points. I’ve always equated the term ‘Slice of Life’ with ‘Mono no Aware’, which is why I never lump in shows like Lucky Star or K-On as part of the so-called ‘genre’ (I call them 4koma Comedies instead).

    That said, recently more and more people are using the term ‘Slice of Life’ for convenience, when a series doesn’t seem to follow tight or forward-moving narrative structures.

  8. Nesray Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:12 am

    Ambiance: a particular environment or surrounding influence.
    IE it isn’t a genre.

  9. GerbilTipper Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    Hello, Kurogane.

    I came across your nice blog recently. Because of you, I started to read “Hayate” and “Negima.” I had to stop reading Hayate because I think it is boring. But I really enjoy Negima and spent two entire weekends in July getting caught up. But after marathoning almost 300 chapters of Negima over a couple of days, I am now experiencing withdrawal because I have to wait for the next chapter like everyone else.

    Anyway, I’ll contribute to the on-topic discussion a bit.

    The reason why some people may have trouble figuring out what makes something slice-of-life is because of our natural tendency to want to form unambiguous categories. A book and a doll are different things.

    But we know that many things cannot be so easily separated into categories with hard boundaries. How many grains of sand can I drop on top of each other before I can call it a “mound of sand?”

    And we also know that all things can belong to more than one category at the same time. This can lead to some confusion. Is a participle a verb or adjective? It’s both!

    The way we consider “genre” is similar. Any title can consist of many “genres.” “Aria” has elements of the fantastical because it clearly has science fiction elements. And it also includes elements of magical fantasy, especially in the adventures involving the cats of Aqua.

    But the story’s science fiction elements do not preclude it from containing elements of “slice-of-life.” Genres are not mutually exclusive and any artist can partake of elements of any number of genres and smash them together such that it would be difficult to say which genre has primacy.

    In “Aria,” we follow Akari ‘s professional growth. Her personality does not change. Rather, the compelling nature of her personality affects and benefits the lives of others around her. And the episodic plots mainly serve to show us how her strength incrementally changes others. But the nature of the episodic plots are about small intimate things: doing a little errand here, exploring a bit of Aqua there, and all the while, making friends and maintaining friendships. And when an adventure is done, nothing happens until the next adventure.

    The big lesson Akari learns comes at the end when she comes to realize that she has always been much stronger and more influential than she always thought she was. And she didn’t have to fight a single monster or a final boss or overthrow a great evil or right a great wrong to learn this truth.

    We need something to call these kinds of stories. In English, we just happen to call them, “slice-of-life.”

    ^^;

  10. suguru Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    @GerbilTipper: Well said. In the end, I’m not sure genres really matter anyway – all anime series are different and there just aren’t neat, perfectly defined labels we can slap on them that everyone will agree to, all the debate in the world won’t change that.

  11. Kurogane Shiroikaze Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

    @Gin: Yes, to establish her own army of cute bishoujos and rule the world by controlling the world’s cake supply. We all know we can’t live without cake, the French discovered that back in the 18th Century.

    @So shimasu: Some shows are also slice-of-life WHILE being ambience anime as well. Both terms can be used side-by-side, the problem is the pigeonholing of just about everything in to the slice-of-life tag.

    @Dakkar: I was pulling some examples out, but hey you get what I mean! Not all of those shows are really slice-of-life per se, but they are all similar in that they create amazing settings that seem to be their own character as well. Neo Venezia leaves a bigger impression in my mind than any of the ARIA cast, while the “mushi” of Mushishi are literally nature itself, and Kino no Tabi has a rather melancholic collection of differring Countries; each with their own quirks. That’s the common thread tying all those types of shows together.

    @Nesray: Wow, by your definition, “action”, “romance” and “spy” aren’t genres then! So is “crime” and “war” too!

    You do know there’s an ambience genre in music, right?

    @GerbilTipper:

    The reason why some people may have trouble figuring out what makes something slice-of-life is because of our natural tendency to want to form unambiguous categories. A book and a doll are different things.

    I think therein lies the problem in which you are misunderstanding the point of this post.

    The problem is that a LOT of different shows, in different genres, with different narrative forms, are being pigeonholed in to the “slice-of-life” tag. Some are arguably correct to be classified as such, but it doesn’t really convey the proper attraction of some other shows.

    That is why there exists the terms “kuuki-kei” and “iyashii-kei”, coined by the Japanese fans themselves, and are more correct at expressing the appeals of those type of shows.

    ARIA for example is both “kuuki-kei” and “iyashii-kei”; the ambience of Neo-Venezia is complemented by the adventures of the ARIA cast that are “healing” in nature, i.e. you get that warm fuzzy feeling at the end of it.

    Mushishi, on the other hand, is “kuuki-kei” but also fantasy and suspense.

    Both are somewhat categorized at slice-of-life too, but the problem comes in when you have shows like Working!! or K-ON! put in the same genre AND being put as a representative of the genre itself, which kinda grossly generalizes the whole damn thing.

    That’s why I am thinking it’s better to have “ambience” to better classify some shows under, as that is one of the major selling points of some shows.

  12. Guncannon Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

    Mugi will never feed you cake.

  13. skyhack Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    Mugi and Ana!! I bet the cake’s tasty, too.

  14. Mappy Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

    I’m glad we aren’t discussing Magical Realism, here, which is another umbrella category many of the aforementioned anime could be shoehorned into. That would just end in a big, amorphous mess….

  15. GerbilTipper Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    The problem is that a LOT of different shows, in different genres, with different narrative forms, are being pigeonholed in to the “slice-of-life” tag. Some are arguably correct to be classified as such, but it doesn’t really convey the proper attraction of some other shows.
    –Kurogane Shiroikaze

    Hello, Kurogane. :)

    I think I am better understanding what you are trying to say. I believe what you are saying is that due to increased repetition of new ideas, conventions, and forms peculiar to anime and manga, that it may be appropriate for the Japanese to create new genre categories of “kuuki-kei” and “iyashii-kei.” Japan has many unique genres, like “moe,” “yuri,” “bishoujo,” and “harem.” And you are saying that a couple of new categories should be accepted as standard because certain sub-genres of the “slice-of-life” category has become so mature that those stories need to be given new “search tags.”

    If this is what you are trying to say, then I find that interesting.

    What I would say to that is that these new categories seem not to supplant the “slice of life” category, but, rather, can supplement it where appropriate. It is not true that most people would not consider “Aria” a slice of life artwork.

    And I don’t know why “kuuki-kei” and “iyashii-kei”–as you have described them, for this is the first time I have encountered these terms and am not certain of how they are appropriately used–could not belong to a plot driven story, like, say, a Miyazaki film.

    ^^

  16. GerbilTipper Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

    I’m glad we aren’t discussing Magical Realism, here, which is another umbrella category many of the aforementioned anime could be shoehorned into.–Mappy

    Hello, Mappy.

    Your comment sounds interesting. Would you share with me some examples of how you would break-up the category of Magical Realism?

    ^^

  17. GerbilTipper Said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

    Both are somewhat categorized at slice-of-life too, but the problem comes in when you have shows like Working!! or K-ON! put in the same genre AND being put as a representative of the genre itself, which kinda grossly generalizes the whole damn thing.
    –Kurogane Shiroikaze

    Hello, again. :)

    Any one genre category, is inherently grossly generalizing. “Aria” isn’t like “Alien,” which isn’t like “Star Wars” or “Spaceballs.” But they all can be categorized as science-fiction/ fantasy. Genres are like search tags. Applying just one tag is a bit unhelpful. That’s why you have to apply several.

    ;)

  18. Dakkar Said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 2:04 am

    @Kurogane
    I don’t mean to reduce the value of the setting in the shows we’re talking about, but, hey, you can’t really put it before the cast, because just as the characters are the part of the world they live in, the world we get to see is the part of the characters, the cognitive image that they shaped.
    What kind of Aria are you going to see if you were to come as a tourist from Earth? How much knowledge of the city’s soul does your average undine possess? And how well can she impart that knowledge on you? Does every Aria’s native see their home the same way? It is noted a number of times that Akari had quite a unique experience with the world and was able to learn the side of Aria a few if any know about.
    In the world of Mushishi, almost no one is even aware of their existence. And even among the mushishi themselves, do you believe each and every one holds the same image and attitude towards mushi and the people affected by them? All we get to see is how the main character perceives and interacts with mushi, but what would the picture and the feel be if you swap him with someone else? Will mushi look the same? Will we get the same description of them? The narration in the show isn’t done by the main character, but it’s pretty clear that it’s based on his knowledge and experience.
    Would the character other than Kino trigger the same events, or at least show the same facets of life in the countries we get to see in Kino no Tabi? Is that melancholic feel the inherent property or the derivative of the observer’s personality? How the things were to look like if we had, say, some feisty main character?

    All in all, you can’t put the image before the eyes it is seen through. The settings we get to enjoy in all these series are neither complete, nor the objective descriptions of the respective worlds, but just glimpses of what the characters make out of them.

    As for the matter of classification… Well, if I were to define the common theme for all the three, that would be “World Cognition”.
    For a show to fall into this category, you either need an environment worth attention, or an unusual take on the things one regularly considers mundane. There’s no restriction in terms of how realistic the setting is, or how normal the events shown are. The characters can be of any age or occupation, but with the personality deep enough – after all, their inner world is what the reality they witness gets projected onto.
    The development is embedded – new experience alters, if by a bit, the entire picture, and gives you more of an insight both on the setting and the characters, then the process is repeated on a new iteration. Make the world or the characters shallow, and the development will get stuck soon enough, so the quality control is embedded as well :)
    It might be a side theme as well. In fact, you can put this tag even on the shows like Black Lagoon, which is, perhaps, what separates it from “girls with guns” crowd.

  19. ithekro Said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Mugi? What are you doing with a little English girl on your holidays to Finland?

  20. Mappy Said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    GerbilTipper >

    Magical Realism is the addition of an otherwise incompatible fantasy element into a story that is set in a reasonably realistic setting, with the characters perceiving said fantasy element in a matter-of-fact way as it has always been a part of their world.

    The most obvious example that I can think of, in anime and manga at least, is Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto. Nobody questions the existence of mages and magic, and they have even created schools and a bureaucracy around it in a way that wouldn’t be out of place if it actually existed in the real world. Both Mushishi and Aria have elements of this, as well, and both, like MTnTnK, fall under the clumsy umbrella category of “Slice of Life”.

    As you can see, Magical Realism can be just as clumsy and ill-defined.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Realism

  21. zZMoronZz Said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    Dude go check out latest episode of K-ON!! touching like mad :”( Mad me shed manly tears

  22. sndvgalnasdff Said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

    >Kino no Tabi
    >slice of life
    You obviously don’t get the genre.

RSS feed for comments on this post