Ξ April 15th, 2010 | → 1 Comments | ∇ The Anime Annals |
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.
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…
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???
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…
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
Check out some slice of life today, and reflect on your own slices of life tomorrow