If you asked me a year ago, and said, "In a years time one of your favorite shows will be about a boy dealing with food ethics, father issues and his his purpose in life " - well I wouldn't have balked, but I might have been taken for a loop. "Really...Huh. Never would've guessed"- would probably have been my response. But the fact remains that it is true. That show is Silver Spoon and it is one of the many slice of life shows I have fallen in love with.
Now some of you who haven't really watched Slice of Life might be confused on why I am going on about a genre of shows that are ostensibly about nothing, by which I mean that they often forgo the usual emphasis on plot. Well it's exactly because of that fact that I've grown to love these shows, because they are different, and explore different things. What is it exactly they do different?- Well I'm glad you asked… (well I'll assume you asked, if not, well my apologies).
Characters: A Testament to Non-Conformity
Because SoL shows are much less concerned with overarching plot points and more focused on character interactions, the result is that SoL usually have much more thought and care put into the creation and development into each of the cast members in comparison to other genres. So where the typical shounen action series can get away with picking one of five "deres," adding an optional character quirk and calling it a main female character, SoLs instead have to break those molds in order to not feel derivative. The eventual outcome is that the casts of great SoL are much more diverse, interesting and fun to watch just by themselves. They do not have the luxury of overarching plot and circumstance to make up for tropy or flat characters, and so it is their nature to have better defined people, who can continually supply interesting responses to whatever drama comes their way.
Hanasaku Iroha's main ensemble is like this. Each of the characters has a number of personality quirks and issues, from the good natured but soft hearted Son with a drive to prove himself, to the shy and quiet but surprisingly capable waitress. Even the Madame Manager is shown as a complex and interesting character, becoming far more than the iron-willed figurehead she starts off as. It is these multifaceted characters that brings life and dynamism to these shows, and why I often find myself growing fond of so many characters from these shows.
No End in Sight
Another of SoL's strengths stems from the lack of an endgame in most varieties of the show. There is no main villain, and often there is not even an end goal. Not even the romances are necessarily guaranteed to be "finished" by the end of a SoL show. However that does not mean that they lack in either development, nor in fulfillment. In fact the best SoL by necessity have fulfilling but open-ended plots… because that's what life is like. Reality doesn't just short circuit because you finally attained your dream, or because you finally hooked up with your childhood crush… Life moves on and these shows do too.
I mean with a romance show like Toradora! it is almost expected that the series will end with the final cementing of the romantic relationship, and takes for granted the "happily ever after" following the credits. While in contrast Silver Spoon's main romantic subplot barely makes any headway, but it doesn't matter. It ends more with a "I will try to make this work... eventually" attitude that is at the same time satisfactory, expectant and realistic.
What this lack of overreaching plot also means is that SoL's are largely episodic shows, with only minor arcs at best throughout their run. It makes these shows great as on-the-side-shows to take when you have a spare moment… or as those shows to watch when you just want to rewatch an episode or two of anime for kicks.
Dealing with Life's Tougher Choices
The biggest reason that SoL's resonate with me personally however is that they tackle themes that usually cannot, or simply are not covered by other shows. Themes of existentialism, finding one's path, life goals, and dealing with personal demons. And while these themes might appear in other shows like shounen action series, there I find these themes secondary to the plot, and often have trite or predictable answers. In shounen action shows especially many shows have a beating-the-main-boss-fixes-everything mentality, whereas SoL typically face these issues more directly, more thoughtfully and with a whole lot more nuance. The best SoL don't shy away, but actively engage with these tough issues, something that I, as a man still trying to find his purpose in life, can really get behind.
It is this type of dealing with life that makes me love shows like Barakamon and Silver Spoon. Each deals with different aspects of growing up, finding your place, dealing with stress and unforeseen difficulties that sometimes hit incredibly close to home. So instead of something like Attack on Titan which tells you that it is the special talent within yourself that will save the world... these shows embrace those who are lost in life themselves, and show that growth and accomplishment can come from many places and that it is okay to still be searching. Not everyone is destined for greatness, and these shows masterfully highlight those characters who would otherwise be left in the background.
Slice of Life to me is one of those genres I just like having around. They're nice breather shows that allow for some greater depth, complexity and nuance than a lot of other shows simply cannot be allowed to have. They have been some of the most enriching shows I have seen, and I hope that many of you will be able to love some of these shows as much as I have, if you do not do so already.
Here are some of my personal recommendations for those interested:
Special thanks Goes to Fruity for helping me out with editing and general Awesomeness!