Slice of life is a real hit or miss. On the one hand, stories reflecting everyday life can be as important and as emotionally stirring as any other kind, and have the bonus of often being more relevant than less grounded fantasy. On the other hand, the genre is defined by a lack of story, at least in the sense we think of it. By writing a slice of life, you are purposefully cutting out an overarching narrative in favor of smaller stakes and more intimate character moments.
The best slice of life do this with compelling characters and sharp writing, see Horimiya, or introducing new and clever storytelling techniques to freshen the formula up, see Kaguya-sama. However, in any given slice of life, you are fundamentally risking the success of your project, more than typical shonen or isekai anime. If your character writing isn’t up to par, your aesthetics lack, then your story is going to fall flat. A reasonable solution to this problem is the slice of life spin-off.
Take an established series in a different genre and transplant its characters into this new story. The most successful example of this would probably be Isekai Quartet, which pulls off bringing together the casts of four different series, and more in the second season. Despite drastic differences in tone and style, these characters gel together surprisingly well. On the other hand, you can get something like Attack on Titan Junior High, which fails to meaningfully create a story around these characters.
But one slice of life spin-off succeeded despite my complete lack of expectations going in, and my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough. Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family has changed what I thought spin-off could be, and I’d call it a masterpiece if my overuse of the word hadn’t already drained it of all meaning.
Fate stay/night and its anime adaptations are serious stories following Shirou Emiya, a novice mage who unwittingly summoned the genderbent King Arthur in a war with six other mages to win the Holy Grail. Depending on the route, Shirou can choose to romance his Servant, Saber, his ally in the Holy Grail War, Rin, or his friend, Sakura. The stories play out the same at the beginning, but differ wildly soon after.
Shirou and Saber are most frequently at odds with his teacher’s Servant, Caster, and his adoptive sister Ilya and her Berserker. However, he does form tenuous alliances with Servants like Lancer and Rin’s Archer. Many of these characters’ fates differ depending on which route is chosen, but it’s not ideal for many of them. Thus, when thinking about Fate stay/night, there is an overwhelming feeling of “can’t they just get along?”
If you have had that thought, I have the perfect manga and anime for you. Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family follows the day to day life of Shirou as he procures ingredients for tonight’s dinner, and invites the cast of the series over for a nice homecooked meal. In this secret fourth route, the tensions of the Holy Grail War have evaporated as Shirou has much more pressing concerns, like if he has the pocket change to pick up some fish on his way home.
Every 12-minute episode contains a different combination of beloved characters from Fate (mostly) getting along, having fun, and generally being cute as heck. It is a dream come true, it shouldn’t work, but here we are.
I don’t completely hate the idea of a slice of life spin-off using the chibi art style, but it’s rarely the best choice. Emiya Gohan strikes the perfect balance between that and the typical anime style that the Ufotable Fate adaptations have used. The designs are simplified and they often go for that chibi style, but usually to illustrate a point, like Saber is hungry, or Saber is watching Shirou cook, or Saber is watching Shirou set the food down on the table.
The series employs a soft pastel type color palette, and it’s just so easy on the eyes. The lighting and line art just works miracles in making this a pleasant little visual delight. Every character is immediately recognizable, but the sharp lines and corners have been sanded down and their iconic outfits adjusted to blend with the new aesthetic.
And the background art screams of an exquisite attention to detail. Every meal that Shirou prepares is lovingly done, with a keen sense of culinary refinement. It’s rendered with enough realism that you could feasibly recreate any of the meals shown. That’s important, because it’s the whole point of the show. Shirou doesn’t just recite the menu to pad the runtime, he wants you to go and try them.
This is the rare cooking show with a legitimate passion for anyone being able to cook. Much as I love Food Wars, it never quite feels like this is something just anyone could pull off, even though that is one of the show’s primary themes. Emiya Gohan’s format is purposely accessible and easy to enjoy even as a casual chef, rather than the highbrow work seen in Shokugeki no Soma.
And this is how Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family beat the odds that face a slice of life spin-off. You already care a lot about these characters and are invested in them, considering you’ve probably seen some of the mainline shows, one of the spin-offs, or played one of the games. And even if you haven’t, this isn’t so plot-heavy as to deter a new Fate fan.
And the seriousness of Fate stay/night doesn’t prevent you from enjoying a lighthearted side story, quite the contrary. Having seen these characters struggle and suffer so much, it’s relief to see them enjoying themselves. Plus, the Servants play beach volleyball, which is worth serious points in my book.
Every vignette is endearing and well-paced, but most of all, it stays true to the characters. I can appreciate taking liberties with small things, but it doesn’t feel like they’re being written any differently, just in a different kind of story. It’s essential that you not only faithfully translate these established characters, but that they are in stories that bring out the parts we liked about them to begin with.
And it bucks another troubling trend in the genre; it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Too many slice of life and romcom anime have been loaded with way too much content. These kinds of stories aren’t meant to drag on for 25 episodes. This isn’t even a full 13 episodes, as they’re half-episodes arranged like a half-season. Don’t get me wrong, I’d kill for a second season, you just need to tell me who and give me a Servant to do it, but Emya Gohan is short, sweet, and doesn’t waste your time.
So in its excellent and short presentation, Emiya Gohan has successfully overcome the obstacles that uniquely face its genre, and exceeded my every expectation of it. It couldn’t have been done better if they made a checklist of problems and created a show to counteract each item on the list. They didn’t need to, though, they already made the perfect slice of life spin-off.
Take popular characters in need of a break, create an alternate reality where they can all get along, and fill it to the brim with cute stories and interactions, as well as a real passion for cooking. Once you do that, you just have to have the kind of production values that seem to come naturally to any Ufotable project. Well, when I list it off like that it sounds a lot harder, doesn’t it?
I didn’t say that making the perfect slice of life was easy though, just that Emiya Gohan makes it look that way. If you’re a Fate fan, it is an absolute must, and even if you’re not, it is a decent starting point for the series. I know advocating starting Fate with literally anything is tantamount to blasphemy, but it is short enough and shouldn’t spoil too much. If you want a helping hand onto the sinking ship that is Fate, you couldn’t do much better before heading into stay/night.
But if you have anything you’d argue is the perfect slice of life, well, you’re wrong, but I can respect perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition, and I’d like to hear your thoughts either in the comments below or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku. Until next time, thanks for reading.