Anime: Simple Pleasures

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 13, 2006

Filed under: Anime 9 comments

In American entertainment, people don’t eat / sleep / bathe or engage in other trivial activities unless it serves the plot.

If a woman is taking a bath, it’s so that the plot can show her getting walked in on / being murdered / being spied on. If someone eats, they do it to show us what sort of person they are. A puffy, addled cop will eat doughnuts. A corrupt rich man will eat something decadent and gross to the average middle – class viewer. The slobby fat guy will eat fast food. If someone lays down to sleep, it’s because they are about to be attacked or have a nightmare. If a family eats, it’s so they can have a conversation that serves the plot. We rarely see what they are eating. We certainly never see close-ups of the food.

Now, all of this is perfectly reasonable. Western writers have learned that everything needs to serve the plot and character development. If a character has to do something mundane, then it needs to tell us about them or advance the plot, otherwise you’re just wasting screen time, right?

But anime seems to have a different take on this. Sometimes they show us people doing these things just for the sake of showing us how much they are (or are not) enjoying themselves. When a meal happens on-screen, we get closeups of the food, and of the character’s reaction to it. We know what they are having and how they feel about it. Then they eat some of it, and we get a reaction shot: How does it taste, do they like it, how does the cook (if they are around) feel about the reaction? We are shown all of this before the characters get down to the business of having real dialog. Sometimes this serves the plot, but sometimes it’s just there to show us how happy everyone is.

Sometimes we see a character go to bed, stretch and comment on how tired they are, and remark to themselves about how comfortable their bed it. Then it cuts to the next day. As an American viewer I used to get confused by this. What was that scene for? Am I missing something?

Sometimes we’ll have a scene where someone takes a bath, and nothing happens except that they were having a hard day and feel much better now. This could have been revealed by dialog later, but the writers often show this on-screen anyway. The point seems to be to allow the audience to enjoy this stuff vicariously. The writers don’t want us to know that the food is good, the bath is warm, or the bed is soft and relaxing, they want us to experience this along with the character.

This sort of thing is most common in romantic comedies. Ai Yori Aoshi is like this. Everything between the first few episodes and the last disc is just a buffet of slice-of-life moments, little joys and pleasures, and lighthearted comedy based on mostly mundane events. A Little Snow Fairy, Sugar did this as well. Many times the scene would linger on as the characters talked about getting a waffle, what flavor they wanted, how it tasted, and how they should share.

After getting used to it, I’ve really come to enjoy this aspect of %anime. It’s unexpected and different. It’s unhurried. It only works when we really care about the characters, though. Nothing is more tiresome or laborous than a show that drags on showing uninteresting characters doing uninteresting things. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it really works.


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9 thoughts on “Anime: Simple Pleasures

  1. Will says:

    I suspect it has a lot to do with the way Japanese put a lot of effort into food as visual art. The (inedible/artificial) food displays they put in the front window of delis and shops can get quite detailed and extravangant.

    The fact that they can burn up a good bit of time panning across a stationary backdrop instead of wrangling with cells is an added bonus.

  2. Pete Zaitcev says:

    Purposeful displays of food are common as well. For example, in the same Ai Yori Aoshi, when Aoi makes her first dinner for Kaoru, something important is revealed about her past by the composition of the meal. You can also make an argument that a lot of same scenes also serve to showcase Aoi’s cooking skills.

  3. But they do it in series not placed in Japan, too. One of his screen grabs was from “Sugar”, which is set in Germany.

  4. In one episode of “Angelic Layer” it’s actually a significant plot point that two different bento boxes, prepared by two different people, have example the same things laid out exactly the same way. (At the beach, remember? Don’t say more about it because it’s a spoiler.)

  5. Wonderduck says:

    Azumanga Daioh does it all the time as well…

    Oh, and Shamus? I’m back! Looks like you were right.

  6. Banoota says:

    I like anime& the food look delicuse hahahhahhahahahahah

  7. kellandros says:

    If I recall, Scott McCloud mentioned this in his book Understanding Comics. One chapter is about transitions. The idea involved applies equally to single panels or to scenes in a TV series/movie/etc.

    Something that shows up frequently in manga are scenes that basically do not change. In most works, a new panel starts with something different- a different subject, a different perspective, or a different time(something has visibly changed). I don’t remember the details well enough to explain right here.

    Something becoming more available in the US are the slice of life type shows. Most of these have almost nothing supernatural happen, minimal conflict, and slow pacing. And they don’t work for everyone. Most reactions are that these shows are incredibly boring- nothing ever actually happens. But their intended purpose is relaxation and being ordinary, not conflict and storytelling.

  8. Obfuscato says:

    Food is a very BIG deal in the Far East. If you’ve got any Chinese/Japanese/Korean TV in your area, flip over and you’ll probably find all the characters having dinner.

  9. Katrani Merack says:

    Actually, at least in animes, I think some of these shots are padding. How do you take a scene that takes about a minute to read (because it’s a comic and you want to appreciate the art as well), but when animated is only twenty seconds long, and turn it into that full minute of viewtime? Show lingering shots of whatever normal items are around!

    This isn’t to say that’s all there is to these. It’s just how it is when it’s not plot-important or the series just doesn’t make it a main point. inuyasha, for example, showed the characters at night but rarely sleeping unless it was important. It did, however, show them eating and taking baths. Hellsing has Seras Victoria’s big drinking-blood dilemma, so food is an important thing there. Then you’ve got a show like BLeach where, yes, a lot of it is fighting. But they also make a point to show the characters’ normal lives at point- it’s kind of hard to miss the guitar in Chad’s room during the Bount arc, and Orihime is often pointed out for her weird taste in food. At the same time, though, we get small moments like between-practice breaks that few others shows rarely have, especially in Western animation.

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