Anime girls have a lot of expectations. Audiences want them to be soft, cute, fun, relatable, and of course, super sexy. Their storylines require them to be hyper competent, hard to come by (but constantly craving love), and super sexy again. They are often expected to be all of that and save the world at the same time. Is there no justice for the waifus? When will it end?
Apparently now. A growing number of shows, particularly in the iyashikei or “healing” anime genre, finally free their female protagonists from this unusual pressure and take their relationships even better. In signature series for the genre, such as Flying witch and Tamayura Hitotose, the focus shies away from action and romance, in favor of meaningful connections with family and friends and enjoying the details of life.
Iyashikei Anime is certainly not new, but it looks a part Popularity increased, thanks to its much-needed calming effect on viewers. The genre first emerged as a an answer to the trauma after the Kobe earthquake and sarin attack in Tokyo in 1995, when audiences longed for a sense of security from fiction. While iyashikei can include works that incorporate elements of action or fantasy, the focus tends to be smaller and more mundane, and there is a heavy emphasis on visually stunning settings.
Many of the quiet storylines, while charming, are sadly dismissed as “cute girls doing cute things,” as is often the case with the series Not not Biyori. Other series are considered domestic fantasy fulfillment for men, such as The helpful fox Senko-san
The pressure to be cute and helpful won’t immediately ease for our two-dimensional leading actresses. But series that gave their female protagonists quiet freedom of action have been around since the 1990s, even if this particular kind of on-screen empowerment was rare.
During the action-packed magical girl powerhouse Sailor Moon helped popularize anime in North America, 1998 Yokohama Shopping Log provided a calm counterbalance, even if the western audience was still largely unknown at the time. Films by Studio Ghibli (in particular My neighbor Totoro) has helped establish itself over the years iyashikei‘s appeal while proving that stories about women’s lives are commercially viable. The low-key hangout anime series Azumanga Daioh brought this effort into the early 2000s with an ensemble of high school girls going about their (mostly) normal lives with a hefty dose of surreal humor on top of that.
With the foundation in place and increasing demand, it becomes more and more acceptable for shows to let their young women explore life safely and find fulfillment on their own terms. And Kuma and Bear and Adachi and Shimamura are two incredible examples that recently completed their first dubbed seasons. Relaxed camp (currently only available with subtitles) takes the chill vibes to the next level.
And Kuma and Bear (Streaming on Hulu and Funimation) starts with a tried and true isekai Storyline in which the protagonist Yuna is taken into the world of her favorite video game. But instead of struggling to get back to the real world or looking for the clout in the game, she just enjoys life and seeks good food. Despite their somewhat selfish motives, their quests often improve the lives of other residents of the game, many of whom appear to be NPCs. Alternating funny and sweet, the series is particularly attractive for everyone who loves found-family tropes and deliciously drawn culinary delicacies.
Adachi and Shimamura (on Funimation) is a more traditional slice of life, with just a touch of romantic fear and a few surreal side stories to keep things interesting. Protagonists Sakura Adachi and Hougetsu Shimamura are two high school idlers who become friends while skipping classes. Gradually, their connection develops into something more. It’s essentially the antithesis of classic anime InuYasha: There are no sacred objects that have to be recovered, no action-packed battles with powerful demons and certainly no dramatic name screams during fights and confessions of love. Instead of this, Adachi and Shimamura dedicates several episodes to shopping for gifts in uncrowded shopping malls.
Relaxed camp (on Crunchyroll) is exactly what it sounds like: a series about girls camping. It is effective Azumanga Daioh in the woods, with even more breathtaking background art and calm, food-focused plots.
Without the drama of the evil forces to be overcome, or even the great and restless romances of fan favorites like Fruit basket, some people may find these shows boring. But the beauty lies in the freedom from conflict: knowing that everything is and will be in order for the characters triggers a deep relief in the viewer. If Fruit basket is the medial equivalent of a weeping spike after the breakup, iyashikei‘s vibes are much more like falling asleep under a heavy blanket next to someone you love.
Rather than relying on the plot on constant drama for the story to move forward, the focus is on the characters’ interactions and ideas. In And Kuma and Bear
Stylistically, iyashikei also tends to have bright secondary colors, elaborate backgrounds, montages of upbeat music, and voice-overs, which are used for characters to reflect on their feelings rather than reacting to their opponent’s latest combat moves. The character design shows a strong influence from traditional ones shojo Aesthetics, with “cute” styles that focus on big eyes and fashionable clothes, rather than unrealistic outfits or exaggerated anatomy. Communication also tends to be less complicated. There are still misunderstandings between the characters, but mostly because of the comedic effect.
Instead of indulging in the more typical tsundere Characters are much more likely to convey their true feelings gently and easily, whether they are centered on friendship, romantic interests, or a more familial love. While these confessions can still build up a bit and feel scared, it is clear to the audience that the feeling is being reciprocated and the characters should feel safe to express themselves.
While the high-stakes worlds of the most popular anime series are filled with epic battles and fearful relationships designed to create endless excitement and emotional bonding, sometimes the intensity is just too much. It’s a lot of fun just watching the characters live their lives. Enjoying the peaceful scenery, following slow relationships that develop in their own time, and real delight in the absurdity of existence offers a unique kind of escapism that is badly needed in an over-stressed, overwrought world. The timing is right. These calm depictions of the life and relationships of women are becoming more common and popular.
We are faced with an open world, with stories that reassure us that it is okay to just exist, appreciate other people, and absorb the world around us. And one where anime girls can finally chill out.