reviews Slow Loop anime

Anime you must watch: Slow Loop – a powerful anime about death

On the power of anime to deal with challenging subjects.

12 mins read

Slow Loop, an adaptation by Connect of the manga by Uchino Maiko, aired as part of the Winter 2022 anime season. Ostensibly, Slow Loop is the archetypal cute show about cute girls doing cute things – in this case fishing. Soft character designs, rounded linework, gentle but vibrant colours, the master/apprentice activity learning dynamic. It seems to focus on newly minted high school girls bonding over after-school activities and standard slice-of-life shenanigans.

Slow Loop is sort of these things, but really, Slow Loop is about death.

But also, Slow Loop is not about death. Slow Loop is about living with death.

Stoic and shy Yamakawa Hiyori is a first-year high school girl who enjoys fly fishing. Energetic Minagi Koharu is also a first-year high school girl, new to the area. In typical fashion, their paths cross at the ocean – Koharu never having seen the ocean before is instantly fascinated by the quiet angler and what she’s doing with this massive body of water. The two quickly bond over the activity, and the girls share a freshly caught meal. It is quickly revealed that, by pure chance, Hiyori and Koharu are new step-sisters, their parents suddenly deciding to marry without introducing the girls to each other or their new partner.

From our clichéd first meeting, Slow Loop diverges from typical genre fare.

Hiyori and Koharu share more than a link by marriage – both girls have dealt with the death of a parent. Hiyori lost her father to a short-lived anonymous disease three years ago, while Koharu lost her unnamed mother and infant brother  Natsuki in an accident as a young girl.

Slow Loop Anime 1

Where other shows have and would fill the space with maudlin flashbacks of vignette-filtered hospital visits, Slow Loop eschews this approach. Hiyori’s father Shinya is never shown sick in the hospital, and the fate of Koharu’s mother and brother are matter-of-factly exposited, and then barely mentioned at all.

But their absence is insistently, consistently felt.

Hiyori’s – and the entire series’ – focus is fly fishing  – a skill taught to Hiyori by her father. Hiyori’s experience in the sport, along with her limitations when it comes to other forms of fishing, is representative of the impact the now-absent parent had on her life. Every time anyone picks up a rod, it is a reminder of the bond between daughter and father – a bond that is not severed by death.

More explicitly, Hiyori’s childhood friend and fishing compatriot Yoshinaga Koi persistently uses Hiyori’s nickname “Yamahi” when talking to her friend. As Koi explains, “Yamahi” is a mashup of Hiyori’s family and given names Yamakawa and Hiyori. It is a constant reminder that Hiyori is the daughter of Yamakawa Shinya, despite her name legally changing to Minagi subsequent to her mother’s remarriage.

And, while Slow Loop is permeated by death, it’s also entirely not about death.

Death happened – past tense – and now everybody has to deal with living.

Slow Loop Anime 2

Themes of the practicalities of death are embedded in the fishing aspect of the show. In the first meeting between Hiyori and Koharu, a fish’s life is straightforwardly ended, and its body is put to use. It isn’t graphic – the framing choosing to exclude explicitly showing the killing and gutting of the fish – but it is unemotional. When you catch a fish, you kill it so you can eat it. That’s just factual in these girls’ world.

It is an idea that repeats constantly – even to the extent that Koharu is genuinely confused when, in a later episode, Hiyori releases her catch. Hiyori explains the concept of catch and release, and how it is actually the norm for fly fishers. To Hiyori, catch and release isn’t about an inherent respect for life, but is rather a selfish decision for anglers. She wants to return to these fishing spots for years to come so she can catch more and bigger fish for her own enjoyment. Koharu instead suggests that killing and cooking her catches would be the most respectful thing to do, as it honours the fish’s life. In typical fashion for the pair, they communicate their feelings openly and accept that each approach is valid.

Uncommon to the “dead parent” trope, the family’s butsudan shrine is never shown. There are no visits to family graves. Most similar shows will make it a point to show the death rites of bereaved families, but Slow Loop seems to go out of its way to avoid such obvious reminders of death.

Instead of grief at a lost parent, the show concerns itself more with the mechanics of a blending family, and feelings of awkwardness of strangers in the home.

Slow Loop Anime 3

Shy Hiyori doesn’t quite know how to treat her new father, and outgoing Koharu likewise feels awkward around her new mother. But, most importantly, this difficulty is swiftly and effectively dealt with via direct communication between the girls. Hiyori notices that Koharu uses keigo with her new stepmother Hinata, and asks her about it. Koharu readily confesses to feeling unsure at how exactly she should address her, which in turn allows Hiyori to communicate her own discomfort. The girls discuss it, come up with a solution, and solve the problem together.

The girls aren’t ignorant or deliberately avoidant of their circumstances. Both girls are constantly aware of their respective losses. For example, when first moving in, Koharu feels unsure about taking Hiyori’s father’s former study as a bedroom. Hiyori is more practical about it: Koharu needs a place to sleep, and the study is unused. While there is a slight suggestion that Hiyori feels sadness at the loss of the room, it quickly becomes a point of closeness for the sisters, as they frequently open up the dividing door of their adjoining rooms so they can push their beds together at night and talk.

Their mutual losses are points of bonding, but not through the crucible of intense grief – instead, the new sisters are common-sensical and practical about getting the job done.

This is punctuated by genuine attempts to grow closer as a family. The girls organise a family camping (and, of course, fishing) trip so that Hiyori can grow closer to her new stepfather and Koharu can grow closer to her new stepmother. It works, and the family becomes tighter-knit and more comfortable.

Slow Loop Anime 4

The closest the show comes to the typical “dead parent” clichés is when Koharu, caught out in the rain on a fishing expedition at Hiyori’s maternal grandparents’ house, becomes sick. Biological improbabilities of this tired trope aside, Koharu drifts in and out of consciousness, remembering a time when her mother and brother visited her in hospital. This sole flashback shows Koharu – who was often in hospital as a child – getting jealous of the attention her mother is giving her brother. The focus isn’t on her brother as a dead memory, but rather of her being bedridden. This is used to contrast immediately with Hiyori’s reaction to the situation.

In a typical anime, Hiyori – whose father died from illness – would be reliving experience of being with an ill parent. She would be worried, attending to a bedridden relative in a panic.

But not in Slow Loop. The show’s practical approach to death lets Hiyori take action, calmly asking her grandmother to teach her how to cook nourishing food – of course using the fish that Koharu caught on their trip. Hiyori is composed and practical, and, most refreshingly, understandable. It is, after all, a slight cold, and subsequently Koharu makes a swift recovery.

It is a deft subversion of expectation that shows just how mature and smart Slow Loop’s treatment of death, and the life that comes after, is.

But it isn’t so shallow. While not explicit, the past trauma of loss is shown in Koharu’s father Issei’s reaction. Issei takes a day off work to rush to Koharu’s bedside. He is concerned for her, perhaps a little more than would be usual, but not exceptionally so for the parent of a sick child. It is a nod to his own grief, and one that reminds us that it is also important to experience ongoing grief in a healthy way.

Slow Loop Anime 5

Slow Loop’s approach to parental death is rare in the anime space. While the manga classifies itself as a seinen series (i.e. for young men), the anime seems geared more towards the young adult market of slice-of-life enjoyers. By leaning away from the melodramatic depiction of grief, Slow Loop allows itself to explore what comes after death: living.


Please note: This article originally appeared in the April 2022 edition of the Dee Dee Zine. As we are no longer publishing the magazine, we have reprinted it here to preserve it into posterity.

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