I recently came across an article that reinforced my belief that producing a successful slice of life anime series is one of the hardest genres to pull off well. In his review of Living for the Day After Tomorrow, Anime News Network’s Theron Martin states:
“Slice-of-life dramas are arguably the hardest type of anime series to do successfully, as they cannot fall back on intense action, flashy special effects, silly humor, or dazzling visuals to carry the series through weak points or serve as main attractors. These are not the kind of series where heavy doses of fan service feel appropriate, either. Instead, they must rely almost entirely on how the characterizations and character relationships guide the story, with only a story gimmick of some type to hook the audience. This one handles both exceptionally well.” (The whole review is here.)
*convinced; adds Asatte no Houkou (aka Living for the Day After Tomorrow)to My Anime List’s “Plan-To-Watch” section*
Being a writerly sort, I tend to prioritize interesting characters (and their development) and involving stories above all other ingredientsof anime. I’ve found that I really enjoy a well done slice of life show. The animation doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, the direction and pacing can be uneven, the premise somewhat boring; but if done just right, none of these will matter as long as the production’s quality is high. The story will grab you, your emotions will be manipulated with artistic skill, and your involvement with the fully-fleshed characters will feel almost as if they are human. Many slice of life shows do fall flat on their faces, but the successful ones will win you over due to the proximity of these fictional characters’ relations to our own Real Life “slices.” We see ourselves in them; we remember ourselves through them; we learn about ourselves through them.
The two Nanas in their apartment
Presently I’m watching the 2006-7 anime NANA, and loving it immensely. Others I’ve rated highly include such diverse fare as ARIA, Azumanga Daioh, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!, Honey and Clover, Kimi ni Todoke and many more far too numerous to list (and that’s just through the Ks!). Those just-named are superb though, and highly recommended. There are no battles royale, no magic (as such), no blood-letting or little kids piloting giant robots. Just characters whom you might feel that you’ve met before and know almost as well as yourself ;-) (Although… there is a superb anime that does blend the sci-fi of kids piloting a “Figure” and fighting innumerable battles together with slice of life; it’s called Figure 17, and (to me) was a near-masterpiece in the way it depicted a realistic and somewhat withdrawn 10 year-old and how she copes with the slices of life she’s dealt. See Theron’s “story gimmick” quote, above.)
Let’s take NANA as an example (by the way, that link will take you to the ANN Encyclopedia page, where another link to all 47 episodes will be found where you can watch it all for free, and legally). It took me about four episodes to get into it, but once I got past that “familiarity curve” I was hooked, but good! Initially I disliked the skinny string-bean character designs, the plot seemed to not be doing much besides building a seemingly-continuous introduction arc, and the animation seemed wooden and sporadic. But then… a funny thing happened: the Story took over. The true-to-life characters began showing (not telling) their dreams, disappointments and aspirations, and as the episodes came and went NANA‘s hooks sank in, deep…
Romantic Nana, aka Hachi
Essentially it’s a story about two girls named Nana, one a flighty romantic and the other a hard-boiled punk (musician), who meet on a train and become unlikely roommates. It should appeal to anyone who loves music (or music-making, rather), pulling yourself through an adversarial life by your bootstraps if necessary, and the intricacies of finding a true love and living a satisfying life. How does one, and should one, stay true to oneself? How do we deal with change, whether from the crush of love or the progression from wannabe to star, and weather, let alone survive, those changes? I’m only through episode 28 of 47, but already I’m dying to find out how the Nanas do! But troubling me is the occasional narration, done by Nana-Romantic, speaking to Punk-Nana as if she’s in the past-tense… or gone. That most-important phrase to a writer follows: What… happens… next???
Punk-Nana, leader of The Black Stones ("Blast")
For me, Plot isn’t as important as Story is, and NANA does take liberties here in that it appears to be without a discernible plot. From Carl Kimlinger’s ANN review comes this astute observation:
“NANA isn’t terribly enamored of plotting. Not that it’s plotless—anything but—just that it doesn’t try imposing narrative order on the chaos of its characters’ lives. On the surface that can make it feel a little rudderless. But such a judgment misses entirely the point of NANA. NANA isn’t about events, it’s about people and experiences. Its purpose lies not in constructing a neatly cresting narrative, but in capturing the reality of life and the poignancy of change at the cusp of adulthood. And it does so with the multifaceted perfection of a fine gem.
“The facility of Ai Yazawa‘s writing is nothing short of astonishing. Even as the series prepares itself to tear your heart out and dance a high-heeled polka on it, it is shining a light through the bewilderingly familiar prism of its characters’ personalities. Starkly exposed is both the fragility and the self-reproach that bubble beneath Hachi’s blithe self-interest. Briefly glimpsed are the doubt and need that NANA hides behind her brash front. Compassion buds in Hachi, twisted by her self-absorption, just as appreciation buds in NANA, twisted by dependence. The two intertwine, the layers of each personality complementing the other’s in ways both healing and imperiling. It’s a dance of personalities as delicate as it is powerful, and hands-down the greatest achievement in a series crowded with them.”
One thing I noticed was how, after a short while, the character designs really didn’t bug me anymore; in fact, I appreciated and enjoyed the almost lackadaisical animation and exaggerated face-faults, because they only enhanced the unexpected and piercing expressions that drove a feeling home to the heart, or showed more insight into the inner thoughts of these fascinating and realistic characters. It was then that I realized how very well directed this show is; up until then Morio Asaka’s magic touch had been invisible, much like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain…
Top: The Black Stones ("Blast"); Bottom: Trapnest
The supporting cast is excellent too; mainly, the members of “Blast,” Nana’s band, (and an acronym for their name “The Black Stones”) and the other band “Trapnest,” with whom her former boyfriend now plays with, are so vivid, funny, and really fleshed out, showing the glories and pitfalls of the amateur and professional lives of aspiring and inspired musicians. (One of my faves is a young groupie named Misato… SO CUTE!!!) The plentiful inter-relationships are priceless, and cleverly laid out. Can’t wait to see where they go, and how high… and how low. Have to wonder though… how many piercings can a 15 year old take in his face? :-O
I was dreading searching YouTube for a NANA video because I definitely don’t want to be spoiled, but seeing this extended version of the first Opening Theme “Rose” figured that there wouldn’t be any spoilers in it. Thank God I was right! The music’s ragged, but then it’s supposed to be, right?
As with most of my anime, or at least the older ones I might’ve missed, I found NANA by examining the ratings at ANN and MAL (My Anime List). Then I read the reviews of the recently-released box sets and they cinched it for me: I had to at least try it out! My rationale runs something like this: if so many people find it appealing, how bad could it be? Genre doesn’t matter; trends don’t matter… what does matter is this: Does it tell a good story?
Yes. Yes, it does! Check it out if all the ingredients “do it” for you
Read the above-mentioned reviews of Box Set #1 here, and Box Set #2 here; I believe that there’ll be four. And I’m buying them all!!!!! (Well, when I get the money *sigh*)
Poignant "overview" of Nana and Nana
Check out some slice of life today, and reflect on your own slices of life tomorrow
To my utter (but delighted) surprise and shock, I’ve just read about Michael Lynche’s well-reviewed cover of Kate Bush ‘s sublime “This Woman’s Work” on (of all shows) American Idol. Since I rarely watch television at all, and resist everything spurted out by any Hype Machine, I missed it. A small regret, one which I shall attempt to remedy by searching YouTube so that I might share it with you…
Hmm… I’m sure there must be something up by now… Ah! Oh. Well. Here’s one from early March, but nothing from tonight’s show yet. To be honest, I’m not sure if Michael performed TWW again as a “save” or whether he begged his earlier performance be used as his save. Sorry, the article wasn’t clear and neither am I as I don’t watch the show. Still, any offering of Kate’s music into the general public’s perception merits a great big Thank You from myself and Kate’s legion of devoted fans who are all-too-often dismayed at her lack of recognition here in the States. Really. Don’t get me started on that.
ANYWAY! Here’s a nice clip of Michael Lynche’s performance along with the judges’ remarks; he even won Simon over!
Okay, Mike… that wasn’t bad, and as I said, Big Props for picking it out
No doubt his point of reference was Maxwell’s cover of it (I’m merely assuming though based on the lack of Kate’s exposure here), and since this clip from MTV’s “Unplugged” series includes the lyrics, I’ll post it here:
NOW. If you want to see how it’s really done… here’s Kate’s version:
/rant: You know… I have to say: I think that the “music video” has single-handedly ruined the pleasure of listening to music. Not a popular notion, but as far as MUSIC goes, it has. True, there are inumerable video visual treats that have been given us over the years, but let’s talk music, shall we? JUST the music. I guarantee you that if you just turn out the lights, close down your eyes, open your mind and ears and listen, with no distractions, that you’ll hear and more importantly, feel, a whole lot more than in simply sitting on a couch with life bustling, lights blaring, and video visuals sucking all the beauty and feeling out of the song, and the lyrics, and the Art-Work of the artist’s performance. Depending upon the song and the source, of course. Unfortunately, so much music in recent years has become, as Frank Zappa once wisely observed, “product”, and the performers such self-conscious and sensationalistic ego-strokers, that the actual art of music-making has become in danger of producing all flash and little substance.
Give yourself in to the music as much as the Artist has done in creating and presenting you with their Work. Especially this woman’s work!
As she says on her very first record, “Please feel it.”
Back to business: Here’s a nice montage from the movie that probably best-delivered Kate’s music to the West, John Hughes’ film She’s Having a Baby. Notice the difference in presentation between video and film-making; it offers much of the same sentiment as the above video does (with a bit of preliminary exposition), and is very moving:
BUT… there are some pretty damn good music vids out there to be sure! This is one of my all-time favorites, Kate’s Cloudbusting, featuring another fave, Donald Sutherland, portraying the intriguing figure of Wilhelm Reich, with Kate acting as his son (!), Peter, whose “Book of Dreams” was the inspiration for this song and mini-movie. Symphonyofflowers has thoughtfully provided the lyrics on the video’s page if you’re interested in reading them (and you should be!). Crank it up!
If you need any further proof that Kate is an incredibly gifted Artist then you’re most likely just a bloody cynic and there’s no hope for you. Unless her music’s just not your thing, strokes/folks and all that, which is fine. But she should be properly recognized as a great, unique, illuminating, and beautiful Talent given us; do try to sample Aerial(her most recent album) for proof. You’ll hear nothing like this record ever again, it’s quite safe to say; it’s funny, quixotic, inspired, mournful, happy, even “painterly” and ultimately, exhilarating! To put it short, she’s a Force for Good, beneficient, benevolent, and bountiful. I’ve loved her for years and will continue until the day I die, as I have her Work for constant companionship and comfort. Thank God.
There’s plenty of hateful, materialistic, and/or mean-spirited music out there, and for some reason it’s selling and very popular. I’m sure that there’s no connection at all to the rapidly-spiraling descent of humanity into malevolence, bleakness, and madness, right? Right. *cough*
“Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen
I don’t know when
But just saying it could even make it happen…”
Light up your life, will you? And spread it around. Hate the hate… and not each other. Illuminate the World, not darken it!
“I want to be up on the roof
I’ve gotta be up on the roof
Up, up high on the roof
Up, up on the roof
In the sun…”
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six years since Lily was “born,” but indeed, today is the 6th anniversary of when she first came out of her mold at Abyss Creations. Co-incidentally, April 1st was also the intended birthday of Lily Godwin in the pages of our novel, Unbound, before the necessities of endless rewrites deemed it unnecessary to the plot and it was excised. This was well before the notion of commissioning Abyss to replicate her ever arose in my mind, otherwise I’d probably have kept it in. But the novel isn’t about The Doll at all, so it’s just as well! It’s all about Lily, and the variety of that Flower…
Being that we’re talking dates and anniversaries (well, I am anyway!), April 1st is also the first full day in the novel, and Easter Week’s a critical period soon following it. Needless to say, it’s a significant and eventful period for me, and for all of my Lilys! Being that we’re in Easter Week, I might as well mention that it was around Easter in 1986 when the Muse I eventually named Lily began inspiring and “dictating” the story to me…
Lily awakes on Easter morning
A little history of the mystery of Unbound: Once I was aware of the Muse’s presence, I determined to free myself from the distractions and constraints of society, my family, my friends, and work. It took me until 2001, but at the earliest time that I was able to manage, I uprooted and removed myself from my birthplace and everyone and everything I’d known and held dear, and relocated to a foreign corner of the Northwest where I didn’t know a soul, or had ever laid eyes or foot. That November I began writing in earnest, 10-18 hours a day, dilligently and devotedly attending to my Lily-Muse, mirroring and reflecting her own inspiration and dedication to our Cause. That “Cause” will be something for the Reader to uncover on their own in the result of that Work, that Labor of Love, Unbound ;-)
Lily loves Neil Gaiman too!
But it got lonely… very lonely. I was completely isolated and severed from people, aside from the odd trip into town. I wonder how many Readers can really imagine what that’s like? No contact at all, no visitors, living in a totally unfamiliar place, only going out for groceries, completely disciplined and focused on the act of creation at the expense of everything else. The one positive thing, the only positive thing, was that my story was coming wonderfully to life… especially Lily. I could envision her so perfectly, and as she grew more developed through the countless pages I could see each expression and mannerism; every smile, every frown, each feature, each movement. She became a living being in my Imagination, from where she was born, inspired by the Muse I named Lily as well due to her devotion in delivering her story to me. For lily means “devotion,” and I guess that longtime Readers already know that by now…
Bringing Lily to Life
So when the opportunity arose to bring her to life, or at least down to Earth, I jumped at it. On the day after Christmas 2003, when I finished my first complete draft, I placed my order. Then came weeks of working with Joey, the talented face designer at Abyss at the time, who painstakingly duplicated her features from my detailed emailed descriptions. I opted to order more realistic hair eyebrows (rather than painted) and super-realistic custom-made cobalt-blue eyes from the Canadian master crafter Guy Louis XVI. Mannequin-maker, sculptor and special effects creator par excellence, he nailed this most-important aspect of her face and contributed so much to her persona. We thank you, Guy!
Guy Louis XVI's custom cobalt blue eyes, specially for Lily!
Several weeks after she emerged from her cocoon-like mold, she arrived at my doorstep, encased in her special crate. There’s no way to describe the spell she cast upon opening up the packing and glimpsing her for the first time. “Breathtaking” will do nicely, for that’s exactly the reaction I felt! Stunning, absolutely. She was perfect, aside from a slight miscalculation on my part that resulted in her being just a tad too busty by a size. The only thing missing was her ready smile and mischievous nature, her melancholy, her sweetness, none of which unfortunately could be duplicated. But Lily had truly come home… as well as a creation born of the imagination could be.
"Who's a Fool?"
And so after removing her from her crate, and after removing the uncharacteristic-for Lily-Godwin black hose and sexy lingerie (which the novel’s Lily would have been utterly embarrassed about being seen in, let alone wear), and replacing them with attire more fitting for our quite-casual Lily, the matter of storing her became an issue which needed immediate addressing. I discovered that Realdolls couldn’t be kept sitting for long in a seated position, as the silicone in the stomach area might tend to crease, possibly leading to splitting, and repairs on these dolls can be really tedious. So she was laid out upon the side of my bed (the only suitable place), where she remained until I was able to order a display stand from which she could hang from the provided neck-bolt, and where she “stands” to this day. But she almost seems impatient to be released so that she might relax a bit; her face is so realistic that one can almost imagine her thoughts, IF one enjoys using the God-given gift of Imagination… as I do
Is it live, or is it...?
Now, I’ve heard (or rather, read) plenty of skeptics, cynics, rubes, and twits all come to the same lame and predictable conclusions, which I won’t even deign to reply to again. (Just watch the Lars and the Real Girlfilm for examples.) The general public’s collective minds skew towards the gutter and stay fixed there, and don’t need acknowledgment. But when Elisabeth Alexandre and Elena Dorfman came out to interview me (from Paris) and photograph us for their respective books, we drove Lily around town and to my surprise found so many receptive faces filled with such fascination and delight! But for one hostile priest who demanded we leave “his” church (where we’d been given permission to shoot), everyone was thrilled, curious, awestruck, and happy to meet Lily-Doll. And of course, being that it was also a reason for having her made, allowed me to emphatically plug our book!
Elena Dorfman's Picture of Lily (copyright by Elena D.)
But attitudinal and presumptive people can’t be disuaded of their small-minded assumptions, so we’ll try to leave it at that. Once you remove the sexual sub-function of these love-dolls, then people might better perceive their reality and possibilities beyond that baser attraction, wherever their minds might place it, pedestal or gutter. Simply put (very), she was like a big teddy bear for me, and provided me the proximity to a loved one, as I do love Lily Godwin (and hopefully you will too, once her story becomes published). She became a companion in a very true sense of the word. Of course, she’s not human (DUH!), but companionship does come in many forms, one of which is the ancient and time-honored intended design of The Doll. Really, it’s as simple as that. (Coincidentally, another theme of Unbound is companionship. Funny that!)
Lily and her friend
Something almost completely unrelated, and having to do with companionship and Remembering oneself; taken from the anime Kanon (2006), the heartbreaking relationship between Yuichi and Makoto. (SPOILERS AHEAD!) The song is awesome too, and furnishes the words to consider for the visuals. (Coincidentally, another theme of Unbound is heartbreak; sad that…)
We’re human, after all… and so is Lily. Which Lily? I’m sure you can figure out, or you will when you read her story.
Lily wonders about You...
Naturally, I would prefer human companionship and a more reactive response in my lovers, but… it’s not a matter of comparisons, or preferring one over the other. Skeptical people fail to see that it’s apples and oranges, which should be so obvious, but they prefer having their malicious ”fun”, and making fun of others. Which should say plenty enough about them… and how low their sights (and souls) are. Some people prefer relating, dwelling and looking down to the ground. Lily likes to look at the sky, and her eyes are a reflection of That
Lily at Sunset, looking at the sky
Happy Birthday, my Easter Lily, and Happy Easter to you, dear Visitor! Thank you for spending some time here, and feel free to comment, if moved to do so.
on the water
"When early youth had passed, he left his cold fireside and alienated home to seek strange truths in undiscovered lands. Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought with his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men, his rest and food." (from 'Alastor, or, The Spirit of Solitude', by Percy Bysshe Shelley,1815)
For info on our novel UNBOUND, please see our website in the Blogroll!