Slice-of-life is a widely misunderstood genre, and I often see anime series mistakenly categorised as slice-of-life simply because they are not hugely dramatic by Western standards. But there is no point having descriptions for things if we misapply them, or the words will lose their meaning. Hidamari Sketch is an example of what slice-of-life really means. If you’re looking for drama you will struggle to find any here. If you want romance you will really have to search hard to find any. There are moments of comedy, but only moments. This is something that will be deeply unfamiliar to anyone who is new to anime. If you made the observation that nothing happens in this series you wouldn’t be far from the truth, but it’s still a great series. How can that be? What is the point of slice-of-life?
The point is of course the characters. A slice-of-life series lives or dies on how much the characters come to life, and how happy we are to just spend 25 minutes in their company each week, sharing in their random chatter and occasionally their worries or aspirations. Our main focus is Yuno, one of four main characters who attend Yamabuki Art High School and all live together in the same apartment building. There are only six rooms in the apartment, two of which are vacant during the first series of the anime. Yuno lives in room 201, next door to her best friend Miyako in room 202. I adored both of these characters. When the series offers us food for thought, it normally comes from Yuno, who is not a particularly confident character despite being very talented. An important aspect of the series is the way she has to adapt to living an independent life. Both of these girls are living on their own for the first time, although their friendship and proximity leads to them forming something akin to a family unit with the other two girls in the apartment block. Each episode tends to be structured as a day in Yuno’s life, starting with her waking up in the morning and ending with her having a bath and going to bed while she reflects on the events of the day. It gives the series a strong format that works very well, and a sort of cosy familiarity as the season progresses.
I mentioned that Yuno offers us food for thought. Miyako just offers food. Actually she eats it – anything that comes her way. This isn’t exactly a comedy series but at times it can be quite funny and much of that humour comes from Miyako and her voracious appetite. It’s all thought out very well by the writers, because Miyako comes from a poorer family, so she can’t afford a lot of food herself, and is living in the cheapest (and leakiest) of the rooms. It’s an important reminder that not everyone has the same chances in life, but it’s never emphasised too much. This is a happy series.
The other two girls are second year students: Hiro in room 101 and Sae in room 102. Neither of them made as much of an impact on me as the other two girls, but Hiro’s untamable hair is an amusing running joke, and there is a hint of unrequited yuri romance to Sae’s strong feelings for Hiro.
There are two teachers who are recurring characters, and I adored them both. Yoshinoya is Yuno and Miyako’s homeroom and art teacher. She is “eternally 17”, i.e. one of those very clichéd single female teachers who are terrified about the loss of their youth, still living at home and without a boyfriend. She sometimes behaves in an inappropriate manner, and if you’ve seen a few anime series set in schools you will find her a familiar character trope, but she is very amusing, especially when she is being told off by the Principal, who is absolutely my favourite character in Hidamari Sketch. For reasons I didn’t quite understand he constantly shakes. At first I thought he was shaking with anger, but it actually happens every time he appears, and his voice sounds quivering and frail, but at times he bursts into action like an Olympic athlete. He is entertaining every time he appears, and his behaviour is often bizarre or inexplicable. My favourite moment is probably when the girls spot him walking along dressed as Santa Claus. Never has there been a less appropriate Santa.
I bought this series at a good price in a second hand DVD shop, without knowing what I was really buying, but it turned out to be a great purchase. It contains the 12 episodes of the first season, plus two entertaining OVA episodes. This was clearly a popular series, because there are three more seasons and several more OVA episodes. I look forward to exploring them all in due course. Perhaps Santa will bring them for me, if he’s not too shaky to get down the chimney. RP