Let’s do another anime post, those are fun and relevant to my interests. TheKittyMeister and I continue to watch a lot of anime, partly because, well, I’m paying for Crunchyroll, we should probably use it. And so we watched Denki-Gai. My relationship with slice-of-life is rocky, at best, but I quite like a lot of them. So this one’s got me thinking about why.
Denki-Gai has a simple premise: it’s about the staff of an enormous manga and doujin shop in Akihabara. They’re all fans of particular things, they’re all weird, it’s a funny show. In the latter half romances begin to develop — and I guess, given what I know of slice-of-life, that means maybe the show isn’t? Slice-of-life, I mean. Since there’s a thing happening that’s a traditional narrative from another mode or genre? I’m not sure. Like defining any form of art, it gets complicated when you pay attention to the details.
Denki-Gai is also pretty off the wall sometimes. Episode one or two features the staff in a huge water gun fight with dozens of other people, but with the intensity of real combat — or, at least, really serious dudebros on the weekend doing paintball. The show is peculiar, but in a way that’s pretty recognizable. Characters take ridiculous things very seriously, with one character’s entire, well, character centering on his vast capacity to read and then recommend manga or doujin to people.
The rule that’s generally held true for me is that if slice-of-life is funny then I’ll like it. Stuff that just noodles around feels useless to me, because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. That doesn’t mean the show is bad, just that I don’t like it. I watched two seasons of Martian gondola worker Aria, which is only kind of sort of funny every so often. K-On certainly wants to be funny, and is sometimes. But I think for a lot of people the humor isn’t really what they’re going to in those shows. I know I buck the general trend since I prefer the first season of K-On.
The reason I tell you that is to wonder about something else. I’ve been told I have an odd ability to like something as soon as I understand why someone else likes it. Ever since being told that, true or not to begin with, I try to function that way now. I’ve spent some time getting into cars, tournament fighting game play, and even wrestling, simply because I could figure out what people liked. But in most of the cases I didn’t begin with that sort of distanced analysis. I figured out what the draw was and then was drawn myself for a bit (wrestling is the odd one out there, as I was an actual fan of it when I was younger).
So, if we assume that facility of mine is a thing, then why haven’t I ever been able to do that with slice-of-life? I can think of a few things external to the stuff itself. First, slice-of-life isn’t originally Japanese (unless you buy the arguments that works like The Tale of Genji are examples, and I don’t believe I do). And so my first encounter with the idea was long-winded, boring Western prose narratives about nothing, doing nothing, but being really earnest and intense about doing nothing. I suppose Proust might be to blame for that whole thing. So I had early bad experiences, I guess.
I don’t want to say the earnestness of slice-of-life shows bothers me, because it certainly doesn’t. But earnestness applied to certain things strikes me as odd. Like sometimes K-On goes for a punchline but still, to me oddly, expects you to also react as though it’s not a joke. I’m thinking particularly of when Yui starts sleeping with her guitar. She names it, it’s funny, it’s a joke, it has the structure of a joke — but also, at the same time, it’s a perfectly sensible thing to do and I feel as though I’m expected to feel satisfaction that she so deeply loves her instrument. But… it was a joke. Those two things are like different sheets of glass layered over a painting (Ruskin was fond of teaching by painting on top of a painting, but actually painting on the glass above it). You can certainly have two different sheets of glass, with different drawings — analogous to the emotional import we experience — but putting both on the picture at the same time makes a visual mess it’s hard to extract anything from. So, for me, is it often in K-On. “I don’t actually know what I’m feeling here, aaaaand the feeling’s gone.” It’s not that I’m feeling things I don’t have words for — it’s that the two separate feelings aren’t bridged by any content in the show, and so I am left feeling neither of them.
I don’t want to bag on K-On here — it’s just the one you’ve probably seen. Denki-Gai doesn’t do this thing as often, because it’s more overtly a comedy. So more stuff is meant to be a punchline. There is an effect, after mid-season, where things get more serious, that toes that line, though. As the romances develop love triangles appear. They’re never dwelled on, and so often moments after a character watches, wistfully, as someone gives her crush a Valentine’s gift we are whipped away to jokes about the rookie manga-ka crying like a baby over her deadlines or the “girl power” sensor the experienced manga-ka uses to examine everything. In this case it’s more like emotional whiplash. The two events are distinct.
I actually believe this lightening of strong emotion with conflicting emotional input is part of what makes this kind of show appealing. It allows the formation of strong stories with interesting emotional import that never affect the audience as though there is strong emotional import. It’s easy to be “detached” (an exaggeration) because everything is leavened with something else. So in the end it may be an interesting form of verisimilitude, since rarely does anything in life itself come with only one emotional content.
And then again, we have an answer. I’ve never thought verisimilitude was the most important thing in stories.