One of the reasons I love anime is for the stuff that it does which you just don't get in English media. Sometimes it's just enough that there be respectable voice acting, sometimes it's outrageous concepts that just wouldn't get a second glance and certainly wouldn't get a budget over here and sometimes it's the kind of things which would be flat out impossible to make with live action but which is also not suitable for kids so it's not suitable for animation round these parts (also it's not a primetime sitcom, the only other way you can get away with making animation in English).
Sometimes it's Japan.
One of my favourite genres is that most ill-defined mess that is slice-of-life. It's a horrible phrase to use (is DBZ not just a slice of life from an immature, planet destroying monkey man?) but you know it when you see it. It conveys this odd serenity and some people just can't get behind it. When slice-of-life invades other things it makes for some wonderful set pieces like Honey And Clover. When left to its own devices it produces what can only seem like a hopelessly boring mess to the uninvested, like Kimi To Boku.
I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, but I felt it was relevant and I'm about to force a segue to make it relevant.
But every so often you get shows which are not just slice-of-life but slice of Japan. They're shows that teach you about the whole culture.
Of course Japanese culture permeates through all anime, it's why the likes of funimation and 4kids have so much fun editing out alien food and trying to work out what an appropriate translation for "-san" is. Really though, all you'll learn from Naruto is that the Japanese eat noodles. What you need is shows that dig deep into what Japanese life is like.
For my money the best way to learn about Japan for the average western anime fan is Joshiraku. Joshiraku is a show about Rakugo and if you've just stopped reading to look up Rakugo then you've already learnt more about Japanese culture than most people will learn in a lifetime. Joshiraku is very much made for Japanese people and full of things for Japanese people to understand and if you can keep up then you'll be massively more attuned to how Japan works, mentally, and you'll also have a great laugh because it's hilarious when you give it a chance.
The real moment of clarity I received from Joshiraku, however, was a scene where they try to use forks and they can't manage it. I realised that for every time I've sat down with friends who couldn't fathom why anybody would use something as inefficient as chopsticks, there's a Japanese person wondering what kind of reprobate would think stabbing your food with a trident is a good idea.
And that's when the anthropological side of it all becomes really fun. It's all very well and good knowing what Japanese people are like, but knowing what they think we're like is a whole other thing. It's a view into the private minds of the Japanese populous and I think that might be the actual place my slice-of-life discussion reconnects.
I remember watching Giant Killing not because it was good (I'm sure football fans would like it but I thought it was pretty mediocre as far as sports anime goes. Though it taught me enough about football to help win a pub quiz) but because its first scene is of the world's dullest English voice actor giving a dire little discourse on why the FA Cup is the shiznat. Throughout the show we see people from different countries turning up and being like people from that country and it's a marvel to watch.
Which brings me to my point.
Starting this season is Kirino Mosaic and I want to bring your attention to it. I've only seen two episodes thus far and I'm loathe to review anything so soon (I find 4 is the magic number, 5 if it's Lucky Star, 17 if it's Shiki) but the first episode was entirely based around a little Japanese girl (Shinobu) visiting little ol' England and living in a ridiculous pastiche of Britshness with all the characters speaking flawless Engrish (because why hire voice actors who actually speak English when you can get proper Seiyu to mumble their way through it?). It's a hall of mirrors back on ourselves and it makes for fascinating watching.
The second episode is back in Japan with the exchange going the other way. Now Shinobu's English host (Alice, because England is Wonderland) has come to stay because she loves Japan so much.
Getting into the flow of things we can see the show going full steam into moeblob and 4-koma, even going so far as to have a little skit explaining moe for the uninitiated (as well as making up lies about it for the initiated). 4-koma shows are always a danger to review early on; they're immediately gripping because they're fast paced and generally pretty funny but they lack story arcs and reasons to come back. Joshiraku gripped me because it managed to keep up a good level of hilarity and that anthropological side of it was intriguing, but I fear that KinMoza! will rest on its moeblob laurels and just become so much adorable high school girl noise.
That said, Alice being a fish out of water means this could well become an essential primer for new anime fans to learn what it's all about as she muddles her way through the pitfalls of a new culture. If not, there may be enough enjoyment derived from Alice's voice actress attempting a quasi-cockney accent to mean you won't entirely regret losing 23 minutes of your week to it.
That's it from me for now. I'm off to see what else is on.