A few posts ago I wrote about anime that mix comedy into their otherwise dramatic stories. Today I’ll be writing about a similar concept of anime that have a number of stand-alone “slice-of-life” stories despite having an established plot they could be progressing instead…
Even if they have an ongoing story, there are many anime that also have slice-of-life episodes which, as I think of the term, is having the characters take part in random, side activities and basically just interact with each other in often stand-alone stories that don’t progress the overall narrative. Even anime categorized by fans as being in the “slice-of-life” genre usually have some kind of plot. In K-ON, the girls are trying to progress as a light music club. In Haganai, the main characters are trying to “make friends” and there’s also the love triangle between Kodaka, Sena, and Yozora. In Little Busters!, the characters are trying to make their own baseball team and figure out the mystery behind the letters they keep receiving. But for shows like this, “slice-of-life” is already the dominant theme while “plot” is the downplayed theme. What I’m interested in for this post is anime that reverse this; anime that have a clearly defined story and progressing plot that’s the main focus, yet they also have a number of slice-of-life episodes too.
Disregarding the long-running shonen anime that make up filler episodes for the sole purpose of giving the original manga time to produce more material, there are quite a number of shorter plot-centered anime that include slice-of-life stories. And what particularly intrigued me is the fact that just about every anime that was ever a favorite of mine, or at least a really big hit with me, was exactly this type of series I’m describing – one that has a main plot but also has a number of slice-of-life episodes, from my early favorites like Tenchi Muyo! and Slayers, to my newer ones like Inuyasha and Haruhi. I’ve tried to think of a reason for this and I think Digibro described it quite well in his post here. To sum it up, the appeal of these shows with loose narratives, or shows that have an overarching plot but also have episodes where the characters partake in independent slice-of-life adventures, is that we can see the characters in a wider variety of situations and thus develop them in a way that the plot alone wouldn’t allow. As Digibro said in his post, “I realized that 100% of the characters that I really care about come from shows with loose narrative structures, because those are the kind of characters that I can imagine in a capacity beyond what they do in the show. They are the kind of characters whose everyday life I can picture and interact with outside the narrative.”
To give an example, I’ll use one of my old favorites, Inuyasha. Although the anime version did include some original filler episodes, a number of slice-of-life episodes were indeed made by the original manga-ka herself as chapters mixed in amongst the regular dramatic story arcs. While these slice-of-life chapters don’t seem to serve a purpose other than being a funny breather story in between big story arcs, what’s great about them is that it allows the characters, especially Inuyasha and Kagome since they’re often the focus of these chapters, to be further fleshed out in a way that the plot wouldn’t have time for. When they’re not fighting demons or partaking in impending danger, how would they interact with each other in lighter situations? These kinds of slice-of-life stories answer that question, and while people who are more interested in the story’s plot would be like, “This is boring, hurry up and get back to the real stuff,” people who are interested in the characters as well as the plot would see this as a rare look into how the characters would act in a different kind of situation, and thus develop them more.
For another example, I’ll use my current favorite, Haruhi. The Haruhi series has a very loose narrative, but it’s not hard to point out the more plot-centered stories from the more filler-ish ones. Other than being mentioned in later stories, episodes like “Live A Live,” “Remote Island Syndrome,” and “Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya” could almost be skipped in favor of the “important” stories like “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody” and “Disappearance.” And yet, they serve their purpose quite well in developing the characters more than the plot. How would these characters act at a culture festival, being trapped on a remote island amongst a murder, or playing baseball? We get to see how the characters interact in a variety of situations and thus we get to know them better. Including these kinds of “extra” stories makes the characters feel less like confined players in someone’s story and more like individuals of their own. It also makes the world they exist in seem larger and more believable since we then see that there’s more possible situations in the show besides those that involve the plot.
Even series with a clear narrative as opposed to a loose one can include these side story episodes without them seeming too out of place and yet serving their purpose of developing the characters an extra step. I personally think a number of middle Evangelion episodes could be skipped, for example, the one with the blackout and the one that focused on Ritsuko and the Magi computers, and it wouldn’t affect one’s ability to follow the rest of the story (besides not seeing how a few Angels were defeated). But again, having these episodes develops the characters more and that’s just as important for a show than just developing the plot. Railgun is another series that does a great job in having a complex plot yet also taking plenty of episodes to show us character interactions beyond the scope of the main story.
This isn’t to say that plot-centered shows with no slice-of-life episodes can’t have good characters. I can think of a lot of great shows with thematic stories that have pretty much no “extra” episodes like what I’m describing and skipping just one of their episodes could totally throw you off with their plot – Madoka, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Fate/Zero, Code Geass, and Eden of the East to name a few. These shows can still be fantastic and have well developed characters, it’s just that I tend to get more attached to characters whom I can see interact with situations beyond a continuously progressing plotline.
There are all kinds of ways to mix slice-of-life stories with an ongoing plot. Some series like Madoka and Fate/Zero choose not to have them, which to some people doesn’t affect their enjoyment while to others it feels like something is lacking. And on the flip-side, there are series whose plot is basically about the characters already being in many slice-of-life situations, like Fruits Basket, Cowboy Bebop, and Toradora! for example. But for me, my favorite characters tend to come from series that have loose narratives and place the characters both in dramatic plot-centered situations as well as lighter slice-of-life situations. After all, real life itself is made up of both kinds of stories so it makes characters more likable to me the more variety of situations I see them in =)