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Depicting Sentiments in Everyday Life

New Anime TV Series Trends


K-On!, an example of nichijo-kei anime. The story depicts the everyday life of a high school girl in a band, which captured viewers' hearts and created a phenomenon. ©Kakifurai, HOBUNSHA/SAKURAKO KEONBU

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Anime on television has been going through big changes. Up until recently, series like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Pokémon were based around themes of adventure and battle, making them highly popular with children. But in addition to these shows, late-night anime programs have exploded into a variety of genres from the mid-1990s onwards and are watched by a broader audience. Many are adaptations of adult-oriented manga or novels, which have attracted the enthusiastic interest of young women who had previously shown little interest in anime.

Portraying the Casualness of Everyday LifeIn recent years, one genre that has emerged is known as nichijo-kei anime ("everyday life cartoons"). The genre has gained popularity, and it often portrays the peaceful lives of groups of young women without placing much importance on an overall narrative. Nevertheless, the focus on simple pleasures, sorrow or other sentiments in life, and other everyday incidents makes these stories seem more real and easy for almost anyone to empathize with. It is this familiarity that viewers seem to enjoy.

K-On! represents the genre well. Broadcast from 2009 to 2010 with high ratings and also made into a well-received movie, the story centers on a high school girl learning to play guitar in her music club at school. It portrays how she becomes involved in the band's activities with her friends and discovers the joy and excitement of playing music. The most characteristic aspect of the work, however, is how the story places as much importance on depicting trivial conversations in the club room after school as the music performances—sometimes even more so, depending on the situation. The focus is on creating an atmosphere that people can identify with—this is the common feature of nichijo-kei anime. An interesting trend was also inspired by K-On!: its viewers identified with the characters so much that they have been buying the same models of guitars and basses shown in the program.



A scene from Lucky Star (Left). It faithfully depicts an actual location (Right)—an approach of pursuing realism that is often used in nichijo-kei anime.
©Yoshimizu Kagami/Lucky Channel (left image) ©Washimiya Commerce and Industry Association (right photo)

Along with its emphasis on realism and identifiable characters, the scenery shown in nichijo-kei anime is often based on actual locations. To vicariously experience scenes from their favorite show, fans are getting together and taking trips, which they refer to as pilgrimages, to locations depicted in the series. This has even boosted local economies some cases: Lucky Star, another popular series in the genre, is set in Washimiya-machi (now Kuki City) of Saitama Prefecture. Pilgrimages to the area by the show's fans is said to have contributed about one billion yen to the city's economy.


Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a hit 2011 anime TV series. It gained huge popularity for its new take on the magical girl genre. ©Magica Quartet/Aniplex, Madoka Partners, MBS

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Fantasy as Real LifeIn fantasy, stories move far away from reality, but the emotional transformation that takes place is essentially connected to our sense of what is real. This is illustrated in the magical girl anime genre, which has a history that stretches back almost 50 years. These shows portray the exciting worlds of young women or girls who practice magic, transform into heroes and use their powers to fight evil.

In 2011, Puella Magi Madoka Magica became a huge hit in the genre. It deviated significantly from standard magical girl shows until then and depicted the bitterly painful reality of situations, like the loss of life in battle and times of spiritual crisis, with great depth for the young characters. Audiences were moved as the cast became caught up in the bitter emotions of real life and confronted the failure of overcoming things that proved to be insurmountable.

Having moved beyond simple plot lines, anime TV series are focusing on creating more realistic scenarios, and audiences are responding with new interest. Now we are beginning to see the human qualities and wide diversity of Japan's anime culture all the more clearly. (March 2012)

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