Slice of Life is a pretty divisive genre. To those who love it, it’s calming and despite its simplicity it can deliver wonderful themes that relate to almost everyone. To those who hate it, it’s a boring genre devoid of substance which is polluting the anime industry. Finding the genre boring is obviously dependent on taste and there’s no benefit to arguing that the genre as a whole is interesting. That said, the idea that there slice of life shows have taken over the industry is ridiculous, and only leads to vitriol and arguments within the community.
Before talking about the genre’s good points in order to prove it has value to some, I want to debunk the idea that most anime nowadays is Slice of Life. According to MAL, this season – Summer 2016 – has 49 TV anime, including shorts but excluding continuing series. Of these, only 11 are tagged as Slice of Life. Furthermore, these series are not all Slice of Life in reality.
Mob Psycho 100 is tagged as a Slice of Life by MAL, but it is more of a pure comedy. It contains very little of the downtime characteristic of SoL shows and focuses almost entirely on its central joke. Battery is also tagged as a Slice of Life, but it can’t be called anything other than a Drama. It has downtime, but it’s entirely focused on the dramatic arc of the protagonist and his relationship with his catcher.
Lastly, Illya season 3 is tagged as a Slice of Life as well. The previous seasons certainly are, but 3rei is far too action-focused to be considered a Slice of Life according to any meaningful standard of the word.
Assuming every other show MAL has marked as a Slice of Life is actually part of the genre, then only 8 shows this season are SoL. That’s only 1/6 of the shows, which while a fairly large number, still pales in comparison to something like action. I can decisively say at this point that Slice of Life has not taken over anime. Perhaps high school shows have, but SoL itself isn’t the behemoth genre it’s often painted as.
Now that I’ve debunked the idea that SoL is taking over the industry, I’ll address the idea that the genre is absent of any substance. I already talked about the SOL sub-genre known as iyashikei extensively in the past, so I won’t cover the shows I talked about in that again. Instead I’ll look at a show which while not a masterpiece, is still quite enjoyable – Gochiusa, or “Is the Order a Rabbit?”
I’ve only seen the first season of Gochiusa, but there’s plenty of substance even within those short 12 episodes. It’s not Ghost in the Shell, but it does have actual themes it engages with.
The first and most obvious theme I can think of is a simple theme of family. Family is a common theme in Slice of Life shows, and Gochiusa shows that off quite well. When Cocoa comes to live with Chino she leaves behind her older sister, but immediately begins treating Chino as a little sister. Initially Chino is resistant to this idea, but as the series continues she warms up to it and comes to love Cocoa as well.
Additionally, Sharo lives without her family, but she lives right next to her best friend Chiya, connecting them as a sort of family as well. This can be expanded into a thematic focus on the importance of friendship, allowing the inclusion of characters like Rize into the shows themes.
This focus on family and friendship can be even further expanded into the theme of the importance of love. This is expressed in the family and friendship themes, and can be seen even further into the show’s small amount of yuri. This is hardly an original idea, but it’s one that the show executes handily while focusing primarily on delivering a mix of laughter and catharsis.
I believe that my point has been successfully communicated. Even Gochiusa, which is nothing more than a competently executed Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show has more substance to it than haters of the genre often imply. That’s not to say SoL is always good, or even that everyone needs to like it. A show can have themes while still being boring, and SoL is just too slow and empty of plot for a lot of people, and that’s fine. But it isn’t fine to totally write off the genre as absent of any intellectual elements, and I hope I’ve shown that even shows in the genre which aren’t masterpieces have more to them than cute girls and jokes.