May 22, 2024

Outsiders and insiders

Thinking about slice-of-life anime, I believe the genre often has an clear-cut narrative structure, what I call the outsider-to-insider learning curve.

In Super Cub, Koguma starts out as a novice. Learning the ropes first from her mechanic and then from Reiko, a Super Cub aficionado, Koguma goes from outsider to insider over the first half of the series. But neither of them have ridden their motorcycles in the winter, so a whole arc is devoted them learning how to adapt their Super Cubs (and themselves) to the cold, again going from outsiders to insiders.

In the last episode, their friend Shii buys a Super Cub and so she as well is on her journey from outsider to insider.

Non Non Biyori begins with Hotaru moving from Tokyo and attending her first day of school. The quintessential outsider. Laid-Back Camp has Nadeshiko biking to a scenic overlook for a view of Mt. Fuji. There she meets Rin and gets interested in camping. As in Super Cub, the first season follows Nadeshiko as she learns about camping from Rin and the school's camping club. As the POV character, what she learns, the audience learns.

In the food genre, Solitary Gourmet features Yutaka Matsushige eating at a different (real) restaurant every episode (being the proprietor of a one-man import-export business is the pretext for him traveling all over the place). Every episode begins with him as an outsider at that particular restaurant and ends with him an insider, having observed the cooks and clientele and eaten practically everything on the menu.

Samurai Gourmet and Wakako Zake follow a similar formula. The latter even includes details about the restaurants visited at the end of each episode.

What makes Akebi in Akebi's Sailor Uniform more of a Mary Sue (though an entertaining one) is that she goes from outsider to insider in one episode. By contrast, in Snow White with the Red Hair, earning her insider status takes Shirayuki most of the first cour.

As a general rule, the romance genre always benefits from a learning curve unrelated to the romantic relationship, such as Sawako in Kimi ni Todoke using her nickname as an impetus to study up on Japanese folklore, which pays off brilliantly at the end of the second season.

And in Insomniacs After School, given the task of revitalizing the astronomy club, Ganta takes up the hobby of astrophotography and finally learns how to use the expensive digital camera his father gave him.

In the last third of the season, Ganta and Isaki travel around the Noto Peninsula searching for shooting locations, a narrative arc now made all the more poignant in the aftermath of the 2024 Noto earthquake. A realistic learning curve can't help but touch upon the real world.

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Mary Sue to the rescue
Non Non Biyori

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