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LiA Bespoke Project : That Niche (You Know the One I Mean) – Top 10

We’re getting close to the first anniversary of the LiA Bespoke program.  And I think it’s been quite  a success – I’ve had the chance to write on some interesting topics I might otherwise not have, and it’s provided a small but meaningful boost to my efforts to keep the site financially viable.  This project goes out thanks to the support of LiA patron Casey W. – thanks as always for all your support, Casey – and it certainly counts as an interesting one for me.

As usual with any “best of” or favorites request, there are challenges with this one (beyond the simple inevitability of forgetting some series and leaving them out).  You’ve heard met talk about a certain “niche” on the schedule, and it’s easier to give examples of it than to define it.  But a list like this forces me to try and do both.  And to determine what series qualify, no easy task.  We’re talking about series that represent a certain vibe, a feeling.   Easy to watch, easy to take for granted maybe.  They’re often but not always comedies, and the humor tends towards the cheeky style.  A quality of wistfulness is common, and a lot of them seem to have Shinto connections.  But I struggle to define the category more specifically than that.

The nebulous definition makes it challenging to determine what series I’d make eligible for this list.  And I apologize for not being able to provide more specificity.  Many of these series would commonly be called “slice of life” but that incredibly-overused moniker is not the essence of what I’m talking about here.  Being too plot-driven seems to be a disqualifier in my mind, as does being overtly a drama.  But these are mostly not gag series either – they seem to lean towards offbeat, observational humor.  A relaxed tone is certainly a common trait.  I considered a ton of series for this project, and I left some out despite them being on balance ones I’d rank ahead of some I included because they didn’t fit that niche.  Whatever it is.

Anyway, that’s about the best I can do.  Here’s the list:

Shirokuma Cafe – A representative of the almost peerless class of Spring 2012, Polar Bear Cafe in many ways epitomizes what sort of series I’m talking about here.  It’s episodic, but the relationships among the cast evolve over the course of its 50 episodes.
Miira ni Kaikata – Quite a different specimen here.  How to Raise a Mummy is only one cour, and rather more plot-heavy than Shirokuma, yet still a show full of warmth and cheeky humor that was incredibly easy to love (and hard not to).
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo KedarugeTanaka-kun is Always Restless is an example of the arbitrary nature of this exercise.  Why it, and not  – for example – Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Monday ga Aru (which I also love)?  I thought about whether this one was too conventionally structured, but in the end the tone of its comedy seemed too spot-on not to include it.
Minami-ke – One might almost have put Minami-ke first on this list, because it’s probably at the head of the class for whatever it does.  I tend to think it’s just slightly different than my Platonic ideal of the niche, which is why it isn’t #1, but it’s incredibly influential (read: much-copied) and one of the funniest anime comedies of all time.
Gingitsune – A sadly under-appreciated series which uses Shinto mythology to keenly observe daily life.  Gingitsune is as close as any series to fitting what this category signifies for me, if that’s any help.
Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi – Workplace comedy is another fruitful sub-category of this niche, and My Sempai is Annoying is one of my favorites.
Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – Romcom wasn’t a disqualifier for me here – if it was, Aharen-san would have been out – but it’s inarguably a different category.  Only a certain type of romcom entered my deliberations, and Aharen-san is the epitome of that.  If you know, you know.
Koori Zokusei Danshi to Cool na Douryou Joshi – The Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague is another workplace comedy that fits the niche like a glove.  I don’t think I need to explain this one – it’s a perfect example.
Tonari no Seki-kun – Okay, it’s half-length but I never said that was a consideration.  Sort of a unique specimen but I think it fits because at heart it’s just a silly, easy to enjoy school life show that keenly observes the differences between boys and girls.
Kyuujitsu no Warumono-san – This is not recency bias, as Mr. Villain’s Day Off is very much a representative example of the sort of show this list celebrates.  Easy to enjoy but deeper than it seems at first glance.

Sort series that narrowly missed: Nekogami Yaoyarozu, Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou, Kyoukai no Rinne, Potemayo, and Kawaramachi Sanjo no Holmes.  And a couple that were certainly good enough but in the end just didn’t quite fit: Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Working, and the aforementioned Kono Bijutsubi ni wa Mondai ga Aru.

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