One of the reasons I love anime so much is the sheer variety. Whether I’m in the mood for an epic fantasy, a dramatic space opera, or a just a good ol’ romantic comedy, I can usually find something I like. Sometimes though, when I come home from a too-long day at work or need to chill because I’m stressed or upset, I’m after nothing more than calm and soothing – something to convince me, at least for a little while, that the world is actually a nice place where things inevitably work out for the best.
It’s in these moments that I start browsing my collection of iyashikei titles. Now an entire genre in its own right, iyashikei describes ‘healing’ anime – shows that tend to have little (if anything) in the way of conflict and which emphasize the small but precious joys of life: everyday friendships, the kindness of random strangers, and the beauty of the natural world. Plot-wise, often nothing much of consequence happens in these sorts of titles, mostly because their main purpose is to have the audience relax to a quietly comforting story – the sort where happily-ever-after doesn’t even need to exist because every day is already rewarding enough. Probably the most well-known example of an iyashikei anime is Aria, a utopian science-fantasy and slice-of-life series about a trainee gondolier. However, there are also outliers of the genre that are darker or more bittersweet, such as Mushishi and Haibane Renmei, or shows take a far heavier comedy or absurdist angle like Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge and Shirokuma Café.
The timing of this blog post is no coincidence. For various reasons it’s been a rough past couple of months, and I expect plenty of people are likewise glad to see the back of 2016. And so while the following isn’t quite my top 5 list of iyashikei anime, it is my top 5 list of go-to anime for when I’m feeling bitter and cynical about the world – soul-soothing pick-me-ups that I just know will make me want to go hug some trees and/or sob happily into my pillow after viewing.
5. Non Non Biyori
I tend to separate iyashikei from out-and-out moe anime in my mind, mostly because the former seems to focus more on things like lovely scenery and calming background music, while the latter’s appeal lies more in its ultra-cutesy cast and obligatory high school backdrop. Non Non Biyori is a near-perfect marriage of the two; yes, it’s basically a show about cute girls doing cute things, and a little of that happens at school. However, the cast is wide enough to include an elementary school kid and a couple of adults, and the flat-out gorgeous visuals highlight the surrounding countryside rather than zooming in on short skirts, so I consider it an excellent balance. There’s little to no drama or romance to be seen here – this is 95% slice-of-life, with some light comedy here and there just to keep things from getting overly dull. Said comedy is thankfully all derived from character quirks and the incredibly rural setting as opposed to being slapstick or fanservice-based, which for me is a major bonus.
You haven’t experienced easygoing until you’ve seen Kamichu!. The cast of this show are so supremely laid-back that everyone’s reaction to the main character quite literally turning into a Shinto god overnight is basically, “Oh, that’s nice.” Yes, really. This show leans more towards having a light and breezy supernatural feel than a straight out fantasy one, with a hint of romance on the side. Mostly though it’s another slice-of-life story, which despite some of the plot points (Yurie is a new god, her best friend Mitsue often gets possessed by the god from the local shrine, and her cat Tama shares its body with the poverty god) is one of the most peacefully cheerful anime I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Oh, and for people who like their anime with a bit of historical flavour, Kamichu! is set in the mid-80s in the real-life location of Onomichi in Hiroshima, and faithfully depicts a number of actual landmarks that are still around today.
3. My Neighbor Totoro
Nearly all of Studio Ghibli’s works leave me with a clean and optimistic feel, like they’ve somehow just gently washed all the bitterness out of me by the time I’m done watching, but My Neighbor Totoro takes the cake. It’s still my absolute favourite anime film of all time for that reason – there’s simply no beating it in terms of calming atmosphere and innocent charm. The kids are awesome, the adults are awesome, and the existence of Totoro clearly makes the world a better place; if Totoro was a real creature (and I so deeply wish it was), then having one around would probably mean the very concept of stress would be a foreign one. Oh, and to all those people who insisted on riding the death-subtext train, you can back off – the official word is in, and Totoro ain’t no death god.
2. Usagi Drop
And now we move from the “Aww, isn’t that lovely” to the “I have to cry now because it’s just that damn beautiful” side of things. While Non Non Biyori, Kamichu!, and usually even My Neighbor Totoro give me a nice case of the feels but stop short at actually moving me to tears, Usagi Drop manages to take things that one step further. I must have re-watched the show at least half a dozen times now, and I haven’t stopped needing to reach for the tissue box yet – not because it’s sad mind you, but because it makes me so blissfully happy and comforted. Six-year old Rin is mind-blowingly adorable while still realistic enough to make me think of her as a real person, Daikichi is the very epitome of good parenting despite not technically being a father (and oh how that makes for some heartfelt drama), and pretty much everything about Usagi Drop seems intentionally designed to make me feel as though the world truly is that humane and compassionate a place.
1. Natsume Yuujinchou
It was a close one, but Natsume Yuujinchou wins out over Usagi Drop in this particular instance, if for no other reason than there’s only 11 episodes of the latter and over 50 of the former. Spread out over currently five seasons, this supernatural drama is a bit different from the other titles on this list because some fairly harrowing events do actually take place, and the series therefore deals with some heavy issues at times – bullying, loneliness, abandonment, and death being some of the more prevalent ones. Ultimately though, it’s because all this is portrayed with such sensitivity that the show is so beautiful to watch. The emotional payoff, particularly when it comes to Natsume’s character growth, is worth every second of it and more. The other great thing about Natsume Yuujinchou is that there’s plenty of much lighter content to be had as well, so if I’m not feeling quite up to having a cry than I can easily switch to a mellower episode. Add to this the ever-awesome Nyanko-sensei, one of the best anime mascot characters of all time, and we have ourselves a clear winner.
Question of the post: Regardless of whether it fits the traditional iyashikei mold, what’s your go-to anime for when you’re after something touching and feel-good?