Day-to-day life can be such a drag, right?
It’s why we find such excitement from escaping to worlds beyond our comprehension. Through experiencing stories, we are spirited away to worlds infinitely more entertaining than the one we live in now. After all, as humans, we need something new. Something exciting to distract us from the dull, hard, humdrum of daily life.
But really, I think anime can do better than just provide a distraction.
The Storytelling Staples of Anime
In a previous post of mine, comparing popular anime, versus the most acclaimed anime, there was a rather interesting trend that I noted.
Action, adventure, and fantasy anime were consistently far more popular than drama, slice-of-life, or romance anime. This trend can be seen through the popularity of shows like Naruto and One Piece, or in the success of Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan, and One Punch Man. And really, it makes sense.
If I told you to choose between an anime where people live their everyday life, facing everyday challenges, and an anime where mere humans fight against supernatural threats, it’s rather clear what most people would pick, right? Why would I care about the everyday romance, the everyday drama, when I could get that same feeling and more, in an action-packed, plot-heavy series, such as Full Metal Alchemist, or Code Geass?
Simply put, anime has become renowned, made popular, by certain story-telling staples. It has made common giant mecha fights, stylish main characters, high-stakes, emotional confrontations, and more. Known for being generally over-the-top and ridiculous, this is made even more clear by the common perpetuation of anime stereotypes, leading many to come up with differing perceptions of Japanese culture as a whole, which I’ve talked about in a prior blog post.
Anime has its own style, one that sticks out from any medium, and that’s great. But all this is to say, I believe that at its peak, anime can do SO much more.
The Best Anime are Everyday Experiences
This is certainly a biased, personal opinion, but I believe that there’s something to be said for anime that are able to convey the feeling of “Everyday.”
How does one describe “everyday?” You don’t really think about it very often. Practically speaking, we just wake up, work, go to school, maybe hang out with friends, and enjoy your hobbies. Mix it up, rinse, and repeat. So, because we don’t discuss it often, let me give it a try:
“Everyday” is our routine. It is our habits, our worries, and our dreams. Everyday, encompasses everything that life is, from our good times with friends, to the lessons we learn through pain and sadness. We are everyday creatures, restrained only to the events we experience during our short live. And of course, everyday is the meaning we give to each of these events, it is what they mean to us, and how we live knowing that these events, in some way, matter.
Most of the popular, exciting anime series, do not focus on these everyday experiences, which is understandable. “Everyday” is hard, boring, and repetitive, so when we watch the newest Attack on Titan episode, we soak it up, enjoying it because of the high-stakes action involved, relishing the special skills each character has, knowing that one protagonist has the potential to change the world.
But really, I think there’s something really special, about making those “everyday” experiences really enjoyable.
These titles are unique, in that while some may be set in extraordinary circumstances, the focus of the series is unequivocally on basic human experiences. A world is created, in which the characters live, struggle, and learn, experiencing just a few of the many, many things that world has to offer. This makes such titles relatable in a way that other, more hectic series simply aren’t able to match, as the characters, very often seem like relatively normal people in their own worlds.
This is why I believe anime that showcase the everyday well, are consistently among the greats. They require an amount of technical skill, to create diverse feelings and link them to events that should be ordinary. In focusing on these everyday experiences, such anime give their characters a feeling of life, in a manner that other anime simply doesn’t feel capable of doing.
At least, that’s how it’s been for me.
Anime That Do It Right
These experiences have been created in many different ways, and while this speaks to the complexity of what real life is like, it also speaks to the potential complexity of anime in general, as being able to create such nuanced experiences.
I’m talking about not just the great slice-of-life anime, but the realistic romances, the anime that focus far more on the normality of life, rather than the high-stakes events that characterize most other anime. Among these, are classic stories such as Clannad and Cowboy Bebop, or newer titles such as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, or Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.
On one hand, we have the recent hit, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which accomplished an everyday feeling in the most light-hearted way possible.
This series took something extraordinary–the existence of absurdly powerful mythical creatures–and used it to emphasize the fun little intricacies of basic events. Through the eyes of our over-powered, mythical creatures in question, the audience was able to witness a sort of new-found appreciation for the things that we have taken for granted.
From learning how to keep up a job, to making friends, having fun at the beach, and going to school, every day was something new and exciting. However, it was never overblown as something more than it was. These were simple tasks and concepts that many people experience in daily life, but through wide shots of the environment, light-hearted but memorable music, and simple character reactions, it still managed to feel like an adventure.
Another example that takes this everyday feeling, and takes it in a completely different direction, would be the classic, Cowboy Bebop.
Part of what made the series great, is that for all the drama our characters have been through in the past, their present was not wholly defined by their pasts, as other anime have been prone to doing. Rather, it presented our characters doing their (relatively) normal jobs, exploring merely their reactions to the events that happened around them as they did so.
The crew of the Bebop lived in a world that most would consider exciting and thrilling, but that wasn’t the focus of the series. People died, there was action, adventure, but that was all part of their jobs. They needed to worry about eating, making money, and dealt with basic ideas, such as gambling, greed, and even general boredom. And the world of Cowboy Bebop was full of this–people simply trying to live their lives with what they had been given.
These anime focus on the casual, slow moments, and in doing so, they almost always display a sense of…nuance. An everyday atmosphere is created, through events that, in any other anime, would be pointless. But small, tiny details make these events feel special. Drinking tea with friends, worrying about food, finding a place to live: these redundant acts that make up our daily lives are given meaning, linked to something bigger and better, allowing the viewers to relate, and perhaps enjoy those things a bit more in their own lives.
When this feeling is pulled off, the anime is given a unique sense of fullness. Every event. Every small moment, is saturated with a sense of emotional depth, that adds layers to a story that many anime simply are not capable of. It’s rather odd to describe, but I find that for me personally, the best anime are those that are capable of creating this sense.
The “Everyday” is important after all. And we could all use a little something, every once in a while, to think about it. To empathize with characters who are suffering through the problems of daily life, or to learn from the personalities that make every day something new and exciting. So, beyond providing a distraction from daily life, I enjoy the series that make me think that the regular moments, don’t have to be so regular.
Anime doesn’t have to be all over-the top action, mecha, and magic. Rather, it could add some magic to things that are a lot more simple.
Well, what do you think? Have you ever enjoyed the sense of routine in an anime, or do you think I’m overhyping it a bit? Either way, leave a comment!