The Secret Stars of Anime Special: The Spring 2016 Slice-of-Life Season

The slice-of-life genre will always be one of the more fringe genres for Western anime fans. While the genre is popular enough in Japan for a few works to sell decently or even become a top-seller, in the US most such works only gain the attention of niche audiences, with the mainstream audience wanting something with more action or drama. As a big fan of the slice-of-life genre, though, I find that the genre has a way of telling stories that no other genre can match: slice-of-life shows, at their best, draw the viewer into the lives of their characters, making them feel like they are living life alongside them, and in the process bring out the beauty and joy of everyday life.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the recent Spring 2016 season of anime, which had a large number of slice-of-life shows airing at once. Not only that, but these different slice-of-life shows also highlight different aspects of the genre, which helps draw in fans who might like those particular aspects even if they are not a fan of the genre overall. With that in mind, this week, instead of highlighting one particular show, I will talk about a number of different shows from this season and their different qualities as slice of life shows.

Flying Witch

Mandrake: living the thug life.
Makoto, witch-in-training and not quite aware that normal people have little use for mandrakes.

Starting with the show that probably fits the “slice-of-life” description the best, Flying Witch is easily one of the highlights of this season. What stands out most about this show is the highly relaxed atmosphere the show provides, making it easy to watch it and simply unwind from a tiring day. It is a perfect example of the iyashikei, or “healing” sub-genre of slice-of-life, where a slow-paced, relaxing atmosphere and overall positive mood “heals” the mind. This is arguably the hardest type of slice-of-life show for non-fans to get into, as it has very little appeal to them outside of that relaxing atmosphere. But when you find yourself in the mood for something light and relaxing, these shows have just what you need.

I find that Flying Witch and other iyashikei shows are the best for developing an appreciation for the magic and wonder in everyday life. Such shows make good use of visual environments and relaxing soundtracks to convey the beauty found around us. Also, the stories focus on relatively mundane events that the characters still manage to enjoy. The element of magic that this show adds only helps the sense of wonder to be found in everyday life. In addition, the slower pace makes for surprisingly effective comedy, as the show allows jokes to develop and settle for just the right amount of time. Overall, this is a great show for those looking perhaps for slice-of-life in its “purest” form, or if you just want a nice, easygoing show to watch without having to invest too much brainpower in.

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless

Miyano: living bullet.
Tanaka: master of laziness. Ohta: master of transporting master of laziness.

Ironically, the show about a guy who tries to live as slow-paced of a life as possible is not really a slow-paced slice-of-life show. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Japanese title: Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge) certainly has its slow moments, but the crazy cast of supporting characters add an energy to the show that contrasts perfectly with those moments. Overall, the tone of this show is more comedic, whether it involves Tanaka trying to find the perfect way to be lazy, or the characters around him bouncing their varied personalities off each other.

Tanaka-kun is a great example of a slice-of-life show where the charm lies primarily in its cast of characters. There’s a cast full of varied and amusing personalities, from the titular Tanaka and his friend Ohta, to the hyperactive Miyano, the not-really-a-delinquent Echizen, and the trying-too-hard-to-be-popular Shiraishi, among others. Their personalities not only make for individually great moments, but also make their interactions with each other lots of fun. If a slice-of-life focused on fun character interactions sounds like your cup of tea, Tanaka-kun is a perfect choice to laze the day away with.

Shounen Maid

(Not pictured) Cats: Madoka loves them, but he's allergic to them, so he can't keep them. Dog: Madoka hates them, so Chihiro can't keep one.
Madoka: great costume designer, horrible housekeeper. Chihiro: great costume wearer, great housekeeper.

I’ve already highlighted this show in an earlier column, and this show has certainly lived up to its early promise. The greatest strength of Shounen Maid is emotional poignance; while the events in the show portray simple moments in the characters’ day-to-day lives, these moments also relate very strongly to their past memories and themes of belonging in a family. I especially love how this show can produce such emotional scenes with little actual drama. The ability to evoke emotional responses using moments from everyday lives is yet another potential strength of slice-of-life shows. There’s not much else to say about this one; if you want a show that can frequently give you a good dose of feels without relying on heavy drama, this is easily my top recommendation of the season.


(Not pictured) Timothy, currently in maintenance.
(L to R) Ren: attracts females of all species. Hibiki: horrible with directions. Botan: perpetually in bad health. Ruri: her romantic interest is literally wooden. Anne: cosmically bad luck.

But maybe you are looking at all these shows and are thinking, “These look nice and all, but where are my moe girls? Where are my blobs of adorableness doing adorable things that the slice-of-life genre is well-known for?” Well, you’re in luck, because Anne-Happy has you covered just fine in the moeblob department. The girls in this show are all ultra-cute in that moe aesthetic, and when you just want to stare at cute things for a half-hour (as I do sometimes), it works plenty well.

That said, Anne-Happy does have a number of things going for it other than raw adorability. The premise of the show is actually fairly interesting: a bunch of girls in a class specifically designed for students with various misfortunes learn how to find happiness despite their circumstances. While I do have some issues with some of the methods that the “happiness class” uses, it does nevertheless lead to many nice and emotionally strong moments as the girls find joy even in their misfortunate lives. This show also indulges in some extravagant comedic moments, making it a wackier show than the others on this list. Overall, while it is a flawed show, Anne-Happy is a great choice for those wanting lots of cuteness while still having a solid show backing it up.

Three Leaves, Three Colors

Not pictured: Yamaji: Yoko's former servant, currently watching from a nearby bush.
(L to R) Futaba, living black hole who eats bread straight from the loaf. Yoko, former rich girl but now eats bread crusts to save money. Hayama: normal-looking girl, but her brutal words can reduce others to crumbs.

For my final recommendation in this post, I present Three Leaves, Three Colors (Japanese title: Sansha Sanyou), which is probably the most balanced slice-of-life show this season, incorporating the strengths of other shows mentioned above. The girls are all plenty cute and have fun, charming personalities, the comedy works well with the character interactions, and there are even some solid, emotionally resonant moments, mainly from how the former rich girl Yoko is still very new to the whole friendship thing. With all these different aspects of slice-of-life shows mixed together, Three Leaves makes for a good recommendation for anyone looking to explore more of the slice-of-life genre but are unsure of what they want from such shows.

As a side note, this show, along with Shounen Maid, have special broadcast dubs available courtesy of FUNimation, making them more accessible to fans who prefer to hear everything in English. This is especially notable as slice-of-life shows tend to not get dubbed due to the relative lack of popularity of the genre. If you are a fan of the genre and would like to see more of such shows dubbed, or even would just like more people to give them a chance, consider watching the dubbed episodes to support the dubbing of future slice-of-life shows.

There are a number of other slice-of-life shows this season, some of which I will talk about in the upcoming end-of-season reviews, along with some from the above list. Plus, next season looks to be another great season for slice-of-life, with everything from the delicious Sweetness & Lightning to the moe New Game to the Barakamon prequel Handa-kun to the next Amano/SatoJun combo of Amanchu, which if it is even half as amazing as the ARIA series was, will prove to be one of the best of the season. Overall, slice-of-life shows will continue to be a regular part of anime lineups for the foreseeable future, and now is a great time to jump in and see all the different things this genre has to offer.


Crunchyroll: Flying Witch, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, Anne-Happy
Funimation: Shounen Maid, Three Leaves, Three Colors

Content notes:

Overall, the five shows mentioned are fairly devoid of objectionable content. Flying Witch does use magic and has some magic circles, which some Christian viewers may be sensitive to, though the magic is definitely not of the demonic kind. Anne-Happy does tease some girl-with-girl romances, primarily because one girl’s misfortune that females of all species are easily attracted to her. One of the characters in Tanaka-kun is a sister who’s a bit too obsessed with her brother (though she doesn’t appear too much in the show). And, as mentioned before, Shounen Maid has a boy dress up in a female maid’s uniform.

4 thoughts on “The Secret Stars of Anime Special: The Spring 2016 Slice-of-Life Season”

  1. Gah, I keep forgetting to check out Shounen Maid, and now the season is about over! You can’t go wrong with Flying Witch and Tanaka-kun, though!


      1. Eh, we all know Kaze’s “bad” can mean anything from “actually bad” to “actually really good but just not to Kaze’s tastes” 😛


  2. Now I’ll have to check out Flying Witch. I saw a clip of it in my daily Japanese lesson, reading through the translation and explanations. Looked really easy-going from the clip and what you mentioned here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s