The longer the title of the light novel, the better it is!
Ever since The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya it’s been an infectious setup for nearly a decade. You get a bunch of friends, make up some excuse of a club that really does nothing all day, and then you have a bunch of shenanigans together. What is it about the high-school slice-of-life that makes it so popular and successful? The Inverseman investigates!
1. Never forget the Springtime of Youth
It’s more relatable than anything. To the twenty-something and teenage viewers of these shows, good times and memories abound whenever the characters go hang out at local spots, go on summer vacation adventures, or prepare for the culture festival. That’s far more “realistic” than a plot setup involving saving the world or a space opera where for some reason half the female cast is nearly naked. You don’t need a million and one Buzzfeed, ThoughtCatalogue, etc. type websites to tell you that, and the plethora of light novel authors and anime writers know that too. For some viewers, this can extend to living vicariously through the cast where perhaps you never really had a first romance in high school or never really got to make that throwaway club where you just did nothing but chill. Perhaps you never got to be surrounded by cute girls in some harem… Regardless, there is a romanticism about these days, and it works. For a non-weeaboo example, just look at Seinfeld that was “a show about nothing”.
2. High school girls can do anything
Like they say in Daily Lives of Highschool Boys, you really can have high school girls do anything and it will sell like hotcakes. Throw moe and fanservice into anything and you quickly forget that your characters are supposed to be rehearsing for a big concert or getting ready for the intramural mahjong tournament. For better or for worse, who cares? You can literally have a club based around nothing and your plot setup is done. This point is more for the moe trends than anything but it augments well into the framework. No battles to worry about or love dramas if you don’t want them, just have five girls look cute on camera and artistry be damned! If you’re not focused as much on the fanservice, you can, however, open up other avenues to incorporate cultural phenomenon that make for pleasing and well-rounded characters with all the interpersonal interactions at the forefront, making moe just a hook rather than the main substance.
3. It’s a basic and scalable template
Using the initial archetype of “five teens gather in a club room after school” you have all the motivations for the episode pre-installed. Unlike Nichijou or Azumanga Daioh, you don’t really have the Go-Home Club where then you actually need to install more ideas to gather your cast together and vary up the locales for the gags (on the way home, at a cafe, bumming around in someone’s house uninvited). Instead, the whole gang is here like it always is every week. The other neat feature about this setup is that it scales itself very easily to adjust to any setting no matter how ordinary or ridiculous it needs to be, we can make it as out-there or down-to-earth as we please because the setting is so neutral. Kyoukai no Kanata easily tracks back to the literary clubroom even with its supernatural elements, so more Mirai and her megane girl antics for everyone
4. The format drives itself
The great thing about a school club is that not only is the cast motivated every week to show up, the overarching story propels itself with the very progression of the school year. Most of these shows chronicle a year or a semester of schooling, so it’s a long time to keep track of without necessarily needing to write in some pressing world-ending objective, unless that happens to be a key plot point, like getting ready for a swim meet. With a school club, the narrative is as easygoing or driven as need be.
You’re gonna join my club!
Now of course there are consequences, because of how easy it is to set up a school-age slice-of-life, it’s far too easy to pander to the proper crowds and invest little effort into a novel or an anime. (See my thoughts on Haganai) But of course, there’s also potential for great comedy, comedy that sticks right into the heartstrings of the audience. After all, one of the biggest keys to being funny isn’t trying hard to find that one gag but saying “hey, I never really saw it that way before!” turning the mundane into the hilarious. And because the setting is so ordinary, you can also evoke good drama like in OreGairu with its deeper-than-you’d-expect characters.
In the end, the school club life may be overdone to agonizing groans where creators just hope to cash in on the fanservice and cliches or it could really make for great characters and stories, just look at Hyouka (check our reviews here!). Join me next time when I improve my fashion sense.
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