One of my favorite things about anime is the plethora of niche subgenres that are extremely rare or completely missing from other mediums, one of which is colloquially known as “cute girls do hobbies,” which the past few seasons of anime have been in no short supply of, so today we’ll be taking a look at what exactly goes into making one of these stories.
The first question to ask is obviously “what is a ‘hobbies’ anime”? To put it simply, a hobbies anime is one whose main story is centered around interaction with a particular hobby or leisure activity. Laid-Back Camp has camping, Gourmet Girls’ Graffiti has cooking, Super Cub has motorbikes, Let’s Make a Mug Too has pottery, Asteroid in Love has astronomy, and so on. While this subgenre has existed for quite a while now, it has gained substantially more popularity in the past half decade or so.
But, admittedly, that basic description seems a bit vague and too general to define as its own subgenre, so the follow-up to that would be: what makes these shows different from other anime of somewhat similar genres? As a general rule, what separates hobbies anime like Laid-Back Camp and Super Cub from more general slice of life fare like K-ON and GochiUsa is the amount of focus on the hobby in question and how that hobby drives the story and characters forward. In GochiUsa, coffee and tea certainly are fundamental aesthetic aspects of the story, but they aren’t what motivates the story or the characters. GochiUsa moreso hangs its hat on found family elements, and the specificity of its cafes and restaurants is more often the butt of a joke than it is a core appeal of the series.
In contrast, Laid-Back Camp is primarily motivated by the characters’ desires to interact with their chosen hobby, that being camping. At its core, it’s a show about camping and how the characters develop and change as a result of interacting with camping. Yes, there are some more general character beats that the story hits as it goes along, but those moments aren’t the primary appeal of the show. It’s the camping that draws us in. Same with Super Cub to an even further degree. The primary appeal of Super Cub is seeing the characters ride motorbikes and becoming more obsessed with the details of motorbike hobbyism. There is character growth in that Koguma becomes a bit more talkative and begins to enjoy her life more, but it’s growth that’s motivated by the hobby itself, and without specifically interacting with a hobby like motorbiking, that growth wouldn’t happen. The intensive focus on the hobby itself is what sets these shows apart from the more general slice of life genre.
However, it should be noted that these types of shows still fall firmly within slice of life. If they were to gain a more competitive edge, then they would start to drift into the realm of sports anime, with a recent example being Iwa-Kakeru! -Sport Climbing Girls-. Yes, the story is still about engaging with the activity of rock climbing at its core, but in this instance, rock climbing is not approached as a hobby like camping is in Laid-Back Camp, but instead a sport that requires intensive training and dedication in order to master it. Hobbies anime generally have much lower stakes and are meant to be a more relaxing and inviting experience, as opposed to the intensity and exhilaration that comes with sports. An example of climbing used as a hobby rather than a competitive sport would be Encouragement of Climb, in which mountain climbing is the main focus of the show and the focal point through which the characters interact and grow, but it’s still treated as a hobby and always remains relatively low-key and relaxing, allowing the characters and us to engage with the hobby at a slower pace and really drink in the details of it all.
All that said, it’s not as though hobbies anime are fundamentally adverse to having more serious moments or emotionally compelling character arcs. Amanchu!, a series about scuba diving, has one of the more extensive character arcs for its main character, Futaba, who, at the start of the series, is extremely homesick and anxious over leaving her friends behind and moving to a new town. However, through her interaction with scuba diving and her new friend, Hikari, Futaba is able to use scuba diving as a means of overcoming said anxiety.
Laid-Back Camp has its own serious moments as well. In season 2, Aoi and Chiaki plan a camping trip without taking the region’s climate into consideration, and so the gear they pack for the trip isn’t enough to protect them from freezing temperatures, and the danger is compounded by both of their phones dying. Though the situation is resolved without incident, the adults take this mistake very seriously, pointing out that they could have died from the severe cold if they hadn’t been lucky enough to find other people to help them. It isn’t excessively dramatic, but it still has some weight to it, and, more importantly, it still centers around camping and adds to the audience’s understanding of what this hobby entails. Camping can be dangerous if it’s not taken seriously, and so the story reminds us of that.
That being said, there are definitely some instances of shows getting this aspect very, very wrong, with Super Cub being the most recent example. If you’ve seen episode 11, you already know what I’m talking about, but, essentially, one of the characters, Shii, falls off a trails into a river in the middle of winter while riding her bike, and Koguma decides to use her Cub to rescue her and drive her back to her house, instead of, you know, calling an ambulance or taking her to a clinic and letting actual medical professionals examine her to make sure she didn’t break any bones or suffer from hypothermia, all in favor of making what was already debatable a TV series-length commercial for the Honda Super Cub even more extravagant by constantly harping on about how it was the Cub that saved Shii, not Koguma.
Not only was this behavior reckless towards Shii’s health, but Koguma could have very easily been injured as well. Driving a motorbike in the middle of a winter rainstorm along a dirt trail that we’ve already established is easy for someone to fall off of while having a high school girl ride in your front basket is just beyond absurd, and the uncritical stance the show takes towards Koguma’s actions ruins much of the catharsis that could have been gained from the conflict’s resolution, and so Super Cub‘s dramatic moment ends up falling flat. It could still have that drama in it; it’s just the way it was executed that caused it to fail.
It’s also important to keep the other end of the spectrum in mind as well. Taking the hobby too competitively leads it to be an entirely different genre and being too dramatic or not handling drama well can lead to overselling the hobby, but not taking it seriously enough can lead to comedic elements overtaking the hobby as well. This is a much rarer occurrence, as having fun with the hobby is an important part of selling it as a potential hobby to the viewer, but it’s still important to make sure the comedy is firmly in control and doesn’t overstep its bounds. Diary of Our Days At Breakwater comes to mind in that regard, as it seemed to think that including a tentacle joke in the first episode was a great way to sell the audience on a show about fishing. I will admit that the fishing element itself did have a nice sense of wonder and attractiveness to it, but the comedy is so overbearing and out of place that it mostly overrode my desire to see these characters enjoy their hobby. Bakuon!! also comes to mind in this regard, with the overbearing comedy also being accompanied by fan service that lands a bit on the egregious side. Much like many other things in writing, there is a fine line to walk in order to get the desired outcome for this subgenre.
Then of course there is the technical side of things: the general aesthetics of hobbies anime. Much like how the narrative’s goal is to capture the true essence of the selected hobby and sell it as something worthwhile to get into, the visual aesthetic also has to make the hobby look attractive. This is most often done through extreme fixation on details. Careful attention is paid to the tools used for a given hobby, especially if they happen to be mechanical in nature, so as to properly convey how cool these objects look. Overall aesthetic is important as well, as one of the main goals of this type of anime is to immerse the viewer in the hobby experience, and so a cohesive, inviting, and generally attractive visual aesthetic is an essential part of the experience.
Of course, the reverse of this is also true. If the aesthetic is generally lacking in polish or a distinct visual style, then the series won’t have as much appeal to the type of audience that enjoys these shows. A recent example of this can be found in Let’s Make a Mug Too. While the pottery scenes are generally well-animated, the overall art direction is fairly weak across the board. In particular, the character designs range from completely generic to just kinda awkward and weird, and the color direction often has a bit of garishness to it, especially in regard to its backgrounds.
Speaking of backgrounds, this is yet another crucial element of the aesthetic for a hobbies anime. Because many of the hobbies in question often revolve around either being in beautiful outdoor locations or in areas with highly detailed equipment, many hobbies anime tend to lean more towards realism when it comes to background designs, as opposed to a more abstract style. This does come with a few drawbacks, however. While the backgrounds tend to lean towards realism, the character designs still have the typical anime abstractness that we’re accustomed to, and so these elements occasionally butt heads and cause a lack of cohesion between the backgrounds and the characters. Though I wouldn’t quite call it a hobbies anime because of a few narrative qualifiers, Comic Girls is a very clear example of what I’m talking about, with the characters often existing on an entirely different plane of reality because the backgrounds are so overly detailed. Balance between realism and cohesiveness is a difficult line to walk, and there are a plethora of anime from all genres that do this excellently, poorly, and everything in between.
This element also ties into a notable piece of anime fan culture: pilgrimages. An anime pilgrimage is when fans of a given anime make it a point to travel to real-life locations that are depicted in that anime. As such, backgrounds with a more realistic slant can truly convey the idea that these characters are at that location, motivating fans to go see these locations for themselves. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these anime are directly influenced by the concept of pilgrimages, but I have run into many anime fans on both sides of the ocean that consider this to be a notable factor in their enjoyment of anime that go for this style of background art, and so I can’t say they’re entirely unrelated.
Visuals aren’t the only part of creating a strong artistic vision though. Music is also a crucial aesthetic element, and there is definitely a trend in what style of music pops up most often. Because many hobbies anime tend to lean more towards the iyashikei side of things, the music tends to be much softer and more relaxed, or at least nothing super explosive. Gontiti‘s soundtrack for Amanchu! is a solid example of this, focusing mostly on lighter tracks centered around acoustic guitar. Again, this isn’t a requirement, but it is definitely a trend, and notable deviation away from that can be a bit…jarring.
It’s not always bad, but breaking away from that trend is certainly a double edged sword. On the one hand it will definitely make the anime sound more distinct and stand out from the crowd. On the other hand there is the danger of going a bit too far with it and oversaturating what could have otherwise been a solid emotional moment. Once again, Super Cub is a prime example of both of these. Aside from a more standard score from Tomohisa Ishikawa and that one bit of I mentioned earlier, Super Cub also makes heavy use of public domain classical music, more specifically mid to late Romantic era piano pieces by composers like Debussy and the lot. It gives many of the moments where these pieces are used a heavier and more emotionally rousing feeling…when that feeling actually lands that is, because as we’ve discussed before Super Cub doesn’t always stick the landing and the overbearing classical music can even end up being distracting, plus there’s the issue of running into a piece you recognize and associate with certain emotions that really don’t match up in that moment I’m sorry Super Cub you can’t just pull out Clair de Lune in the first episode you haven’t earned it yet! (Sorry, uh, my music major slipped out a bit, anyway…) What matters most is that the overall aesthetic, both visual and audio, is able to come together in a way that doesn’t end up distracting the viewer from the hobby in question.
In any case, there is a lot to uncover within this niche, but slowly growing subgenre, and I highly recommend checking out the titles that I’ve praised throughout this video. So what are your favorite hobbies anime? Be sure to shout out the ones you love in the comments below.
Thanks to all of you for watching. If you enjoyed this video, be sure to like and subscribe and follow Anime New Network on Twitter for more great anime content, and if you wanna see more from me you can check me out at Ember Reviews on YouTube and Twitter.